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Coloma Township finds missing $19,000

It took awhile to find where money was deposited

ROCK FALLS – For a long time, Ruthie Rogers, Coloma Township road commissioner, had asked during meetings about where the township was keeping $19,000 from the sale of a truck.

She received no answers.

Then Rogers sent a public records request to Coloma's supervisor, Debra Burke, for the information. But Rogers waited months for the documents, long after the deadlines under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Finally, she got the records and found where the money appeared to have gone – in the general disbursement fund. It was supposed to be in the road and bridge account, Rogers said.

This is another example of financial problems in Coloma Township. Since last fall, Burke has been under fire for her handling of the books.

Township Trustee Peggy McFadden said the problem was another example of incompetence.

"I'm totally amazed all the time with the problems that come up," said McFadden, who joined the board about a year ago. "You get bewildered."

About a year ago, Rogers said, her predecessor, Gerald Bristle, asked her about the $19,000 "to see if it was accounted for."

That's when she started asking about the money at meetings.

"I never got an answer on it," Rogers said during a break from snowplowing Wednesday. "It was a long process to get the information."

Burke said the money was never lost. Last month, she said, the money was transferred from the general disbursement account to road and bridge.

Asked about the time it took to transfer the money, Burke said, "We had to find where it was deposited."

A few months ago, Burke gave the state comptroller's office the financial reports from the past 4 years, which are on the agency's website. The township hadn't submitted one since 2009, although it's required to do so every year. The 21 other townships in Whiteside County – all but one smaller than Coloma – have been up to date with their reports.

Burke also has been late in publishing financial statements in the newspaper, which is another requirement. At one point, the county withheld more than $400,000 in property tax payments from Coloma because of late statements.

"What did the township live on when she wasn't getting any tax money?" McFadden asked. "I don't know."

No Coloma audit yet

Coloma Township, which has been under fire since last year for its finances, has yet to get a completed audit.

It's been nearly a year since Wipfli started the township's audit. At times, the accounting firm has requested more information from Coloma's supervisor, Debra Burke, so that it could finish its work.

"We still have not got it done. That's all I know," township Trustee Peggy McFadden said. "Supposedly, Debbie has gotten everything to them that they requested."

Wipfli, a regional accounting firm that has an office in Sterling, hasn't returned calls for comment.

In December, the firm gave the township until the middle of that month to turn in the numbers or it would wait to finish Coloma's audit until after tax season ends in April.

Burke said she spoke with Wipfli last week.

"They are still working on trial balances," she said, adding that she hoped the firm could finish the work soon.

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