For the second time in less than a year, the Town of Gaines underwent an unflattering audit.
The previous forensic audit found the books off by roughly $100,000, and a water audit Tuesday showed that 60 million gallons had disappeared over the past 4ø years.
Town Supervisor Carol Culhane said the missing water would fill a tank the length of a football field standing more than 140 feet high.
“We’re a small town, and that’s a lot of water,” she stated, noting that the missing water is from only the 4ø-year period able to be re-created.
The water audit was done because Culhane saw that the town’s water districts were operating in the red.
“Last year, working on the 2014 budget, it struck me as odd that they were in the red or were faltering, and I remembered that before I was elected and was only sitting in the audience, the districts were losing money,” Culhane said. “So we started to look into it.”
Culhane said nine of the 10 town water districts are “relatively new” with “a few minor issues, but no main breaks.” However, in piecing together the water districts’ books, Culhane said the town’s water billing clerk “found that there is substantial water loss.” That loss came from “non-billed, consumed gallons, with no consumer paying for them.”
According to the water audit, the town received high marks in the leakage category, meaning it is not technically “losing” water. However, the town earned a score of 48 out of 100 based on standards from the American Water Works Association. If Gaines were a student, Culhane said, it would have received a “D.”
The audit, conducted by Wendel Engineering, examined the town’s water infrastructure, meters and billing, and also included interviews with town employees.
Culhane said the water audit is “part and parcel in relation to the financial snapshot of the town. We have some serious issues in record keeping and auditing because there hadn’t been one for years.”
In her third year as supervisor, Culhane said she has been trying to overcome past corruption and now, with the past two audits, “at least there’s a beginning.”
Regarding the water, though, she said there is only speculation at this point as to where the missing 60 million gallons have gone.
“There is no absolute answer,” Culhane said of the missing liquid. “We have to go forward now and fulfill some of the recommendations as best we can.”
Some of those recommendations include consolidating the districts into one to allow for better management, and creatiing a capital improvement program to maintain the districts and provide for financial stability.
Monetarily speaking, the goal is to bring the water districts up to the point of self-sustainability. The missing water cost the town $170,000 wholesale, and no one except the town paid for it. Based on the water surcharge and retail cost, though, the districts should all be on the plus side of the ledger.
“The goal here is to simply fix what’s broken,” said Culhane.