Court backs Maragos’ bid to audit town park

Court backs Maragos’ bid to audit town park

The Town of North Hempstead has lost a protracted court battle with the Nassau County Comptroller’s office over an attempt by the comptroller’s office to audit the town’s Clinton G. Martin Park park district in north New Hyde Park.

The New York Court of Appeals on April 30 declined to hear the town’s second appeal of a court decision that said the county had jurisdiction to audit the park district. 

In  a one-sentence statement, the court said the appeal was dismissed without costs “upon the ground that no substantial constitutional question is directly involved.”

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos announced the decision at a New Hyde Park civics association meeting last Wednesday night, saying the audit will likely start within the next few weeks.

“This audit will go ahead. We will proceed objectively and not politically with this audit,” Maragos said.

The town had argued that the comptroller’s office lacked the jurisdiction to conduct an audit of a park district because the Nassau County Charter was unconstitutional in authorizing a county audit of town property. 

Christopher Leimone, counsel to the comptroller, said the town comptroller’s office and the county comptroller’s office had exchanged letters since the New York Court of Appeals issued its decision to set up a meeting regarding the audit. Maragos said an initial “entrance conference” between the town and county staffs would be scheduled soon so the county could present a list of documents it wants to examine. 

Maragos said the audit would likely start within two weeks with two auditors assigned to it and said he expected the audit will take approximately three months to complete. He said the audit would cover a three-year period in the park district’s finances, but it could extend as long as 10 years back.

“It’ll be a comprehensive audit,” he said, adding it would include an examination of all park district expenditures and payroll records. “We need to account for the taxpayer money and how it was spent.”

The county had sought the audit after questions were raised by Lakeville Estates Civic Association President Marianna Wohlgemuth about town payments to the park district. Wohlgemuth said the town was not current with annual lease payments of $15,000 to the park district for a building the town uses in Clinton G. Martin Park, a special park district located at Marcus Avenue and New Hyde Park Road in north New Hyde Park. She has also raised questions about whether the town or the park district has been paying the administrative costs to operate the park.

“It’s quite a good thing for all taxpayers in the town,” Wohlgemuth said. “The lease, to me, has never been fully resolved. They owe us money.” 

Kaiman has conceded the town had been in arears on the lease payments, going back to the administration of his predecessor, May Newburger. But he the town had made payments to close the gap when he became supervisor. 

He said last year the town had finally rectified the shortfall with an in-kind payment of $80,000 in 2009 for the installation of platform tennis courts. He subsequently said that his statement had been in error and the town had charged the park district for the platform tennis courts, but said an in-kind payment of $65,000 for gas tanks at the park pool had brought accounts current.

“The Town of North Hempstead has fought this issue on principle but without success in the courts. While the Town’s position remains that the CGM park district is still a funding arm of the town there is no reason not to have the county comptroller’s office do its formal review to at least resolve the substantive issue once and for all,” Town of North Hempstead spokesman Collin Nash said in a statement last Thursday.

The town had initially filed a lawsuit against the county comptroller’s office in state Supreme Court, which denied the town’s attempt to stop the audit last June and affirmed the county comptroller’s office right to conduct the audit. 

A subsequent appeal by the town was denied in February by the appellate division of the state Supreme Court, which said the state Legislature has granted county comptrollers the authority to audit any town or special district within the relevant county.

Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman, a Democrat, had resisted the attempted audit, alleging that Maragos, a Republican, has a political agenda in making what Kaiman called a “back-door” move to audit the town’s finances.

Kaiman said the town had offered to share documents with the county comptroller’s office and sent some of the park district’s financial records to Maragos’s office in March. Maragos called Kaiman’s submission of financial documents to his office a “stunt,” while Kaiman called the county’s continued efforts to audit the records “a political show.”

In response to questions from the New Hyde Park civic associations members on Wednesday night, Maragos said his office had not examined the material Kaiman sent to his office.

“We didn’t look at it and it wasn’t what we asked for. We didn’t need to look at it,” he said, adding that it did not include payroll information.

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