Rogers officials must reimburse money overpaid

ROGERS – Rogers officials are being required by the state to reimburse the village for money they were overpaid.

The issue came up at council’s meeting last week when village Solicitor Michelle Simonelli reported receiving an e-mail from the state auditor’s office referring to findings for recovery resulting from a current routine state audit of village books. The e-mail referred to the village being required to provide proof that officials had reimbursed the village for the overpayments.

Following the meeting, Fiscal Officer Dale Davis was able to shed some light on the situation by saying a portion of the e-mail was referring to reimbursements required after council held two meetings on the same day.

He said it had been common practice that every December council would hold their monthly meeting and then adjourn to share a cover-dish holiday meal. Immediately afterward council would convene a second meeting to conduct further business. Council members, who are paid $30 per meeting, ended up being paid twice.

“It’s illegal to hold two meetings the same day, let alone get paid for it,” Davis said, adding the state is requiring council members to return $30 they were overpaid each for improper meetings in December 2010 and 2011 -the current period being audited by the state – although the practice of meeting twice in one day goes back longer.

All of the council members in office at the time have apparently repaid the money owed, as did the mayor, who is paid $150 per month.

Mayor Sharon Hebron explained that council once held two meetings the same day in December – their regular meeting and then a year-end session to close out the books. At some point, council decided to hold both meetings the same day to save time, and it became a Christmas tradition to combine it with a cover-dish meal in between.

“We were never told that wasn’t allowed (until now) … It was a total accident. It wasn’t like we were trying to cheat anybody,” she said.

In addition to the overpayment to council members, the e-mail also referred to former fiscal officer and mayor’s court clerk Katrina Moore being required to reimburse the village for being overcompensated. The state examiner said Moore’s failure to do so will result in a finding for recovery being issued against her when the audit is released.

Moore, who was at the meeting, said she has asked the state how much she owes but has yet to be given a dollar amount. “I asked what I needed to pay,” she said.

Simonelli said everyone who owed money should have received a letter by now explaining how much they owed, and that Moore should contact the state to ask her letter be mailed again.

Davis, who replaced Moore in 2010, said the situation has placed him in an awkward position since village officials are required reimburse him for the overpayment, but the state will not let him know who the findings are against.

The village has a history of problems with its state audits. In July 2010, the state auditor’s office declared that Rogers’ financial records for 2008-09 were “unauditable” due to lack of documentation. The state received the necessary documentation, and the 2008-09 audit failed to include any findings for recovery.

At the March council meeting, Simonelli reported the village owes the state about $50,000 for routine audits dating back to the mid 2000s.