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Town seeks help over tax receiver glitches

The Town of Elma has asked the state attorney general and comptroller for help in dealing with its tax receiver, who has failed to keep proper records for the past six years.

"At no time was there anything criminal, like money missing," Supervisor Michael Nolan said. "The money's actually over."

The problems stem from poor bookkeeping on the part of Tax Receiver Franklin Kester, according to two state audits and a town audit.

Kester has yet to reconcile the school taxes for 2005, nor has he explained why the excess funds are on hand, according to Wayne W. Drescher of the town's auditing firm Drescher and Malecki.

Kester, who is on a medical leave, could not be reached to comment.

A state comptroller's office audit of 1999 and part of 2000 was highly critical of the tax receiver's office. A subsequent audit of 2003 and 2004 that was released last November stated that "significant errors and irregularities have occurred and were not being detected or corrected despite the fact that certain deficiencies were brought to the town's attention in our previous report."

The most recent state audit resulted in the Town Board establishing a lock box system with J.P. Morgan-Chase Bank for tax payments, to bypass Kester's office. Residents still can pay their taxes in person and in cash at his office in Town Hall.

Auditors also said they observed that certain checks in the office remained undeposited and mail in the department remained unopened.

Drescher said that a taxpayer in the Town Hall said he had received notice that certain taxes had not been paid even though he had proof they had been paid. Further inquiries revealed more incidents where tax collection records were not maintained properly, resulting in paid taxes being reported as unpaid.

"[Kester's] an elected official. There's only so much we can do," Nolan said. "As a Town Board all we can do is notify the proper officials."

Nolan said the town is looking aggressively at abolishing the elective office of tax receiver and consolidating the duties with the town clerk's office, as other towns have done. The move would have to be approved by voters, and would take place at the end of Kester's current term.

"I'm very confident we can save money for them, and most importantly, the job will be done right," Nolan said.

The town made an agreement with Marilla to help out with this year's tax season when Kester went out on leave about a month ago, the supervisor said.

Nolan said he is frustrated because the town audit of 2005 generally gave the town good marks for its operations.

"It's a great government. We have great departments," he said, but he added about the tax office: "The performance of that office truly is an injustice to the taxpayers, very frustrating.

Elma correspondent Nancy Gish also contributed to this report.


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