First Look At Woodsville Audit Coming Next Week

Partial results of a forensic audit of the Woodsville Precinct will be released during a public meeting on Tuesday, March, 2. (Photo by Paul Hayes)

WOODSVILLE, N.H. — Are the books in order?

The answer will come during a public meeting at the Dr. John A. Bagonzi Community Building at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 2.

The Woodsville Precinct is undergoing a five-year forensic audit of its finances, from 2015 to 2019, because they did not perform the required annual audits.

Accounting firm Plodzik & Sanderson of Concord will present findings from 2015, 2016, and possibly 2017 at next week’s meeting. Audits for 2018 and 2019 are incomplete.

The financial inquiry was ordered last year by the Department of Revenue Administration, at the direction of James Gerry, head of the Municipal and Property Division.

He prioritized the Woodsville audit following his appointment in 2019.

“We determined they badly needed audits, because the internal controls you’d expect to be in place for a village district like this were not in place,” Gerry said. “When you don’t have internal controls in place, and you don’t have an audit, you have virtually no oversight of anything. From a state perspective, that’s a recipe for disaster.”

The Woodsville Precinct’s last audit occurred in 2014, and was a “failed audit,” Gerry said.

“The proper records were not made available [to auditors in 2014], they could not do the audit, and they made note of that in their findings,” Gerry said. “From that point on, the DRA was actively pushing them to get audits done. They had a few years where they elected an auditor to perform the function. The person was elected twice but never performed an audit. And they claimed financial statements were audited that were not audited.”

The audit covers all five Woodsville enterprises: Highway, water and light, wastewater treatment, fire and EMS.

Combined, those agencies are projected to control more than $6.2 million in yearly revenue and $6.6 million in annual spending In 2021.

Some observers, including Select Board Chairman Darwin Clogston, speculate the audit will uncover financial mismanagement within the Woodsville Precinct.

Others, such as Woodsville Precinct Commissioner Steve Wheeler, argue no wrongdoing will be found.

State officials would not release details of the audit ahead of the March 2 meeting.

The audit is one of several politically charged issues involving the Woodsville Precinct.

The others are as follows:

HIGHWAY FUNDING: Town officials have objected to Woodsville Highway Department funding levels as excessive. As a result, WHD has filed a lawsuit against the town, and the town has supported state legislation to increase Woodsville’s share of WHD costs.

FIRE DEPARTMENT MERGER: The plan to merge the North Haverhill, Haverhill Corner and Woodsville Fire Departments into a single town department was approved by 2020 Town Meeting. However, it must also be approved by the individual fire districts. North Haverhill said yes, Haverhill Corner will vote again this year, Woodsville has declined to bring the issue to a vote.

AMBULANCE CONTRACT: The Board of Selectmen did not automatically renew traditional EMS provider Woodsville Ambulance, in order to perform a cost comparison. They await a competing bid for Warren Wentworth Ambulance, which would provide 24/7 coverage out of the North Haverhill Fire Station.

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