Niagara Gazette

Local News

January 24, 2013

Housing authority controls questioned


Niagara Gazette — In their review, state auditors determined that Cowart received $16,000 in reimbursement stipends during the audit period. They noted that it was “not clear” whether the board intended the stipends to reimburse her for personal or business expenses. According to the report, Cowart told auditors the stipend was used for the use of her personal automobile, although they noted authority officials could not provide any documentation to support the assertion.

The audit indicates that Cowart was paid a monthly mileage stipend of $200, which is not addressed in her employment contract. For the audit period, auditors said the amount totaled $6,400. According to the audit report, Cowart indicated that while not part of her contract, it had always been “standard practice” to pay a mileage stipend to the executive director. 

During the audit period, Cowart received $15,000 in “additional compensation.” Auditors noted that it was “not clear” what differentiated the amount from her base salary, or what, if any, additional duties were performed to earn the money. The report indicates that Cowart did not receive any bonus payments for “extraordinary accomplishments” during the audit period. 

Authority officials indicated that all stipends included in the review were allowed under the terms of Cowart’s employment contract, with the exception of the mileage reimbursement which they said was covered as an item contained in the authority’s annual budget. 

Under her contract, Cowart is allowed to accrue 30 vacation days each year and is eligible to receive payment in lieu of vacation leave for up to 10 days. Auditors noted that in 2011, the board passed a resolution allowing employees to be compensated for up to 15 days of unused vacation time. 

As of July 31, 2012, auditors found that Cowart’s leave accrual records reflected a vacation leave balance of more than 1,670 hours, or 239 days. Auditors determined that in 2010, Cowart exceeded the maximum accrued vacation leave allowed under the personnel policy by cashing out 10 of her 30 vacation days and carrying forward the remaining 20 - 15 more than what was allowed - without appropriate board approval. The activity, according to the report, reflected “no actual usage of vacation leave for the entire 2010 calendar year.” 

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