Potsdam buys new budget software; discussion over financials gets heated

Nov. 13—POTSDAM — The village board on Monday night opted to buy new budgeting software from ClearGov. The discussion prior to the vote saw a trustee and the treasurer butt heads over past village financial reporting.

The motion passed 4-1, with trustee Monique Tirion voting against.

Isabelle Gates-Shult, the village treasurer, who took up the role in the past year and is tasked with constructing the village budget, introduced the software to the board before its approval.

Upon assuming the treasurer's position, she said she saw a need to overhaul the budgeting process for improved efficiency.

"There have been concerns raised in previous board meetings about the transparency of the village's financials. I concur with the past practices in this regard," Gates-Shult said. "This prompted months of research on my part to rectify this issue."

The village will have to pay a one-time setup fee of $4,320, covering onboarding, staff training and data migration to the new system.

Additionally, a pro-rated subscription fee of $9,986.67 will be required to cover the remaining village fiscal year. From June 1, an annual subscription fee of $17,120 will be charged.

Gates-Shult said the ClearGov software wouldn't just enhance transparency and management processes but foster better communication among village officials on budgetary matters.

Vinnie Petracca from ClearGov Inc. also addressed the board, via Zoom, and talked about the software's features.

"We aim to make this software not only user-friendly for you and your team but also easily accessible for the public when sharing information," he said.

He explained that the software would simplify access to past budgetary figures and actual expenses.

"This tool greatly emphasizes collaboration, as Isabel mentioned," Petracca added.

The program would facilitate the flow of information from authorized budget requesters, department heads, the village treasurer and board members to a dashboard, generating comprehensive reports.

"This software will significantly streamline the budget-building process," Petracca said.

Tirion and Gates-Shult got into a heated exchange over how the village has reported its actual spending and revenues over the last several years and what impact that may have on putting all of the village financial data into ClearGov.

"Specifically, what I'm concerned about is due to unfortunate circumstances, we the public and I the trustee at this point are unable to access the actual spending over the last several years and the revenue over the last several years," Tirion said. "We don't have budget reporting with actual expenses, and that is a question I need answered before I would approve this ... I agree we need it. I'm not sure we're unable to give you what you need."

Tirion later clarified that the village has only "two data sets" over the last five years for actual annual spending and revenue — 2018 and 2019.

Gates-Shult said the village has all of its financial information generated by auditors, which would go into the new system.

"You can provide the expense and revenue data to ClearGov, but not the board of trustees. That's our fault. We let the ball slip six years ago, seven years ago," Tirion said.

Gates-Shult said Tirion has not brought that issue to her.

"Not once have you approached me to have a conversation," the treasurer said.

"I seem to step on people's toes," Tirion said. I apologize ... if I don't come to you it's because I'm aware I make you uncomfortable with my style."

"The information is there. It has to be pulled from a number of different sources. Those sources exist. We give it to ... ClearGov and they import it," Trustee Abby D. Lee said.

"Would it not be unreasonable ... shouldn't we get a breakdown of where the money is spent?" Tirion said.

Gates-Shult said the sparse record keeping happened under previous treasurers, and she's trying to avoid repeating past mistakes.

"We cannot go backwards ... I'm trying to move forward. I'm trying to move efficiently. I need support, Trustee Tirion, to do that," she said.

"She did not create that. That is our oversight issue," said Trustee Alexandra M. Jacobs Wilke, who will move to the mayor's seat in January.

"I'm happy to hear they can (extract) the data somehow for this year. Can it also be (extracted), placed in our 2024 budget ... now that '23 is over, since May 31 it's done?" Tirion asked. "We should be able to include the FY '23 now in our current budget report."

"It was my understanding for the '24-25 budget, we should have this discussion at length," Gates-Shult said. "I'm looking to provide more transparency for you."

Petracca said it's typical for ClearGov customers to provide three to five years of data, however, "there's no requirement."