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State to township: Pay fines

Coloma official says she'll pay penalties herself

ROCK FALLS – Coloma Township might have to pay big fines for failing to report its finances to the state since 2009.

At the Coloma board's meeting Thursday, Township Clerk Pamela Erby passed out a letter from the state comptroller. It included a "delinquency invoice" stating the township owed $13,065 in fines.

The invoice informed Coloma that it could avoid even more fines if it turned in the last three annual financial reports and the audits from 1995 and 1996.

In an interview last week, Coloma Supervisor Debra Burke took the blame in a tearful interview, saying she wasn't good at math.

"If there is a fine, I'll take the responsibility, so it won't fall on the township," Burke told the board Thursday.

Erby told the board that a comptroller's employee called her, saying that he was looking for a response.

"He wanted you to be aware of the daily penalties," Erby said.

Trustee Gene Jacoby asked that Burke keep the board updated on her dealings with the comptroller.

The township meeting was after hours, so it wasn't immediately clear how willing the state would be to reduce or eliminate the penalties.

Every other public entity in Whiteside County is updated with its financial reports at the comptroller's office, including the other 21 townships, all but one of which are smaller than Coloma.

Burke told the board that she is in talks with another township about an intergovernmental agreement for bookkeeping.

When trustees asked her which township, she wouldn't say at first, but later acknowledged it was Sterling Township.

She said Sterling Township Supervisor Matt Howze told her, "Whatever you need, we'd be glad to help out."

Coloma also has acknowledged numerous errors in its annual financial reports published in the newspaper. Many expense and revenue items listed the same amounts year after year, which would be a highly unlikely occurrence.

Burke told the board that Coloma didn't have financial problems, only financial reporting issues.

"I want to emphasize that no taxpayers' money is at risk," she said. "We know there is a problem. We will work to correct it."

Burke said she discovered that internal computer printouts contained errors. The bank statements, she said, were more reliable.

Burke said she had done new reports.

"I'll have someone check my math," she said. "That seems to be my issue. Sorry about that one."

Trustee Mary Ann Richardson presented a list of township checks that hadn't cleared.

Burke, who has served as treasurer since 1981, said that was because they were repeats of electronic checks. The hard copy versions were created so that there was a paper trail.

For much of the meeting, the trustees went line by line through the finances to check on Burke's work.

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