For the first time since Mayor Jack Torres took office in 2010, the town of Bernalillo is in good standing with the New Mexico state auditor.
The Observer recently reported Bernalillo was on the “At-Risk List” sent out by the department, but actually that audit resulted in a report of unmodified across the board, which is something Torres and many others have been working hard for years to see.
“Our audits this year are clean audits, unmodified, across the board, and that’s a first for us and we’ve struggled,” Torres said. “I’ve been in office since 2010, and at that point, the town was three years behind on financial audits, which I don’t understand how the state auditor allowed, but yeah, that’s what it was. And so when we came in, the first task we had was to catch up those three audits. And they just uncovered I mean, the number of findings was just frightening. I mean, it was really crazy. And each year since then, we’ve worked hard to clean up all those findings, and it seemed like we’d get close. And then the auditors would say, ‘Oh, research this year; we found this problem. We found this problem, we found this problem.’ and so finally, this past audit, we hit that unmodified opinion, and it really took so much time so much energy, so many people. And and really, the lead on that was our finance director, Terri Gray.”
Gray asked Torres for help to fix everything that needed to be taken care of, so consultants were brought in to lend some expertise and focus on specific issues. Torres cited one major issue as the abuse of credit cards
“You have to rely on your staff to follow the procedures you put in place. So we’ve developed policies and procedures, but we now have staff that understand and believe and are following those because it doesn’t do you any good if you have the greatest procedures, but people aren’t following them,” Torres said. “And that’s how we’ve been able to finally get to this point with those unmodified opinions, and it hasn’t been an easy task, but it was necessary, obviously, because you want to know that you’re doing the right thing with the community’s money and you want people to be able to verify that. That’s the message I hope we can get across to people is that we’re where we really need to be, but it’s been an enormous mountain to climb.”
Torres also had high praise for Town Administrator Ida Fierro and department directors and the role they played in getting Bernalillo into good standing.“It feels good; the department worked hard to get to where we are today,” Fierro said.
Torres also gave credit to the town council and the accounting firm Loftis & Lovato Group, which does the audits, for working with the mayor to get the problems corrected.
Torres said many people worked extra hard on the audit issues in addition to doing their normal job responsibilities. One example of the dedication needed to get in good standing was an incorrect tax rate being charged on water bills. The consultants helped out with going over every single one of the 4,000 water accounts for years to see if someone was incorrectly charged.“We had to get legal advice and advice from the state, so it seems, ‘Oh yeah, just fix it.’ But it’s, you know, things like that, somebody just forgot to make an adjustment on one of those years where the tax rate change,” Torres said. “And, I mean, I pay my water bill every month. I don’t look at the tax rate. I mean, nobody did for years. So that’s an example of when we brought someone in to do that insane detail.”
That is just one example of how hard Torres and his people worked for years to get Bernalillo to this point.
“I think it just points to the hard work by everybody involved and letting people know that we we take our fiscal responsibility as a top priority and we’ve worked hard,” Torres said. “You know, we’ve always been careful about how we spend every dollar that comes in. But now we can actually show that our processes or policies, our ordinances, all support that, and it’s reflected by this outside auditing firm that shows that we are being proper stewards.”