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Selectboard raises more questions on treasurer's completion of duties

Coomes attributes errors to IRS switch to online tax filing; board members concerned over forms and fines but have no jurisdiction

PUTNEY—More than a year after town officials discovered Treasurer Anita Coomes failed to file municipal tax forms with the state and the Internal Revenue Service, thus subjecting the town to hefty penalties, problems remain and new ones have cropped up.

Last year, Coomes also was in hot water for neglecting to file three years’ worth of dog licenses with the state.

At the Oct. 12 Selectboard meeting meeting, the board unanimously voted to grant Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard power of attorney and declaration of representative for the 2016 and 2017 tax year payroll and general tax forms.

At meeting, Stoddard told the board she recently visited the Brattleboro IRS office to check on Putney’s case files. This suggestion, Stoddard said, came from the town’s auditor.

From her visit to the IRS office, Stoddard learned some issues from last year haven’t been rectified.

Those problems including missing quarterly payroll reconciliation reports (IRS form 941), an outstanding penalty notice for the late deposit of payroll tax withholdings, and another penalty notice for 2011 W-2 forms not properly reconciled.

The total penalty the IRS seeks from the town is over $4,000.

When Stoddard came back to the Town Offices from the IRS office, she said, “I went to look for some of [the documents] in Anita’s office and found the payroll reports, including checks from last quarter, were not sent to the state.”

Hoping for the best

To avoid further penalties and problems, Stoddard completed some of the treasurer’s tasks, including filling out and filing forms. “There was a notice of an $1,800 penalty from the state,” Stoddard said, but told the board she believes once the forms are filed, “the penalty will disappear."

Other issues Stoddard described as “a little more complicated.”

Although she was able to find one of the missing 941 forms, she asked Coomes to find the others, and Coomes was unsuccessful. “I have to find W-2s from 2014 and 2011 and all the reports that go with them,” Stoddard said.

When asked by The Commons about her failure to file the required state and federal tax forms, Coomes said, “I had filed the 941 but for some reason they hadn’t gotten them You think you’ve done something and it didn’t get through.”

Coomes said the issue was the change in the way forms are filed — from paper to online systems.

“But hopefully it will get solved,” she said.

Coomes added, “Hopefully, we will be able to be forgiven” for the late fees and penalties, “but I don’t know if that will happen.”

Going forward, Stoddard told Board members her office is keeping track of tax form due dates. Stoddard also said she told Coomes she wants to sign the 941 forms before she submits them, “so I know that they go out, and if I don’t get them, I’m going to do them and sign them myself.”

When Stoddard discovered Coomes’s failure to file the tax forms in June 2015, she spoke with the treasurer, who she said was challenged by the new filing software.

Coomes “really wants to straighten it out,” Stoddard told board members last year, adding “she wasn’t hiding anything.”

Although Stoddard said she and other town office employees offered to help Coomes with the software, she said Coomes didn’t accept the assistance.

When asked if she had taken any opportunities to learn the new systems, Coomes said, “it has been offered and I will certainly take advantage.”

’This is a problem’

Stoddard said, “I told Anita, ‘This is a problem,’” and that she made it clear to Coomes that she (Stoddard) can’t spend time doing this work.

“I was on the phone with the IRS for two hours the other day,” Stoddard noted. But, “it’s much less time in the long run” for Stoddard to complete and submit the paperwork than it is to work with Coomes on the missing documents, she said.

None of this bodes well for the town.

“There will be a finding in the audit about this,” Stoddard said, adding that Putney will owe the IRS $3,500 “if we can’t straighten out the 2011 stuff.”

“If I didn’t know how to [file these forms], we’d have to hire somebody to do it,” Stoddard said.

Because the treasurer is an elected position, neither the town manager nor the Selectboard has the power to manage that office.

“If anything else like this comes up, I would be hard-pressed not to issue a statement of no confidence,” Board Chair Josh Laughlin said last year, in response to the first round of findings.

“This further clarifies the fact that the office of the treasurer is not completing duties fully as expected,” said Laughlin at the Oct. 12 meeting, adding, “that’s an issue we recognize, and, beyond this, don’t have the authority to make changes in that office but hope those changes will occur.”

“I’m trying to get squared away,” Coomes said, “but they keep changing things around and you [have] got to learn to deal with it.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #380 (Wednesday, October 26, 2016). This story appeared on page D1.

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