QUEENSBURY - Facing a critical cash crunch, Warren County supervisors met in an emergency meeting Friday and voted to borrow up to $1.7 million so they could pay pending bills.
Supervisors also approved soliciting proposals for an outside auditor to analyze the county's cash-flow concerns, as they voiced criticisms and questions about how county Treasurer Frank O'Keefe was managing the cash flow.
The supervisors also voted at the emergency meeting to allow the county to borrow up to $4.5 million to meet unusual or unexpected expenses during 2009.
Critical of O'Keefe for not alerting supervisors about emerging cash flow problems, were county Board of Supervisors Chairman Fred Monroe and Queensbury Supervisor Dan Stec, chairman of the county's Finance Committee.
"It concerns me that we are here today in an emergency meeting dealing with a crisis," Monroe said. "We should have heard about this prior to today."
O'Keefe defended his actions, saying he had warned county officials about potential shortfalls at the end of December. O'Keefe is one of the few elected Democrats in county government.
"We can give you a cash-flow report every day if you want it," he said. "We don't have a good handle on revenue not coming in."
Monroe said the supervisors hadn't received any alert of a crisis until just days before.
"The first time I saw a cash flow problem was Monday," he said.
Stec also aired his concerns, noting that an independent auditor would likely give the supervisors a report on the county's current cash position, but could likely make recommendations for a system to monitor cash flow on an ongoing basis.
"A consultant could help set up a reporting mechanism and provide an independent set of eyes with a fresh perspective," he said.
In raising questions about whether O'Keefe and his department needed help in monitoring the county's finances, Monroe, Stec and county Budget Officer Kevin Geraghty all Republicans, referred to the varying figures O'Keefe reported during 2008 about the county's fund balance. During late fall, O'Keefe had estimated the fund balance to be as low as $500,000, while it was actually in the millions of dollars, they said.
"We heard we had a $4.4 million fund balance, and a $1.9 million sales tax revenue overage, and now we're short of cash?" Geraghty asked.
O'Keefe said the recent shortfall in county sales tax revenues had been part of the problem, as was $1.9 million in payments toward the Hague sewer construction project.
"One of our problems was the $1.9 million that we didn't know ourselves until last Friday," he said Jan. 23.
Several board members, including Glens Falls Supervisors Bill Kenny, Michael O'Connor and Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed, questioned the need to spend thousands of dollars to obtain information that the treasurer's office should be routinely providing, they said.
Goodspeed said he sensed that Stec and others believed the treasurer's office was not capable of providing the information, but he supported letting O'Keefe and his assistants prove they could.
"I'd like to see them perform for a couple of months before us making a decision to hire an auditor," Goodspeed said.
In a split vote, the board of supervisors voted to solicit proposals for an independent auditor to analyze the county's cash flow management.
The vote included an amendment for O'Keefe to provide the supervisors with weekly cash-flow updates.