Niagara Gazette

Local News

January 24, 2013

Housing authority controls questioned

Niagara Gazette — The New York State Comptroller’s Office wants the Niagara Falls Housing Authority to improve oversight of its executive director after an audit identified issues related to her compensation and use of accrued vacation time. 

In an audit covering activities between Jan. 1, 2010 and July 31, 2012, the state comptroller’s office determined that housing authority Executive Director Stephanie Cowart received $6,400 in “improper” stipends and “improperly accrued more vacation leave than authorized without board approval.”

The audit, which reviewed payments made to Cowart to determine if they were accurate and in compliance with her employment contract and authority personnel policies, found 70 payroll checks totaling $290,460 were properly allocated to Cowart during the period in question. It also revealed “certain other payments” that were “improperly paid, not supported with appropriate documentation, and/or did not comply with the terms of the employment contract.”

In its report, the comptroller’s office blamed the situation on what it described as a lack of “sufficient” board oversight. 

“Unless the board increases its oversight of the executive director, the authority is at risk of paying her for benefits she is not entitled to receive,” the audit report noted.  

In its recommendations, the comptroller’s office called upon the authority’s board to recover “any improper payments.”  

Cowart said elements of her contract may be renegotiated in compliance with the auditors’ recommendations, but said she does not anticipate being required to pay back any money. 

“All payments were approved,” she said. “They were accurate and they were fully supported.” 

Cowart’s contract runs from Dec. 1, 2011 to Nov. 30, 2014. She is paid a base salary of $105,798 per year, with a monthly stipend of $500 allowed for reimbursement of “expenses” as well as an additional yearly compensation of $5,000. She is also eligible to receive “bonus payments” at the board’s discretion for “extraordinary accomplishments.” 

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