An over-assessment of $300,000 dollars was one of the findings auditor Ron Smith shared with the Rockport Select Board and Town Manager Rick Bates on Jan. 8 when he reported on the town audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017.

Nonetheless, Smith said that he would give a "solid B" as the financial grade he would attribute to the town's financial growth. Smith, who is the director and managing partner of the Buxton-based accounting firm RHR Smith & Associates, followed this praise by saying that now that the audit was in conclusion, it was time for Rockport's officials to focus on "best practices" in terms of bookkeeping.

Smith said that the error in over-assessing stemmed from a warrant article that did not pass but was included in the municipal appropriation. Additionally, a debt payment that was typically paid from TIF funds was included as a warrant article and was subsequently raised and appropriated through taxation.

"Further, the school appropriation on the certificate was incorrect, lower than the annual assessment from the school. When combined, all of these occurrences were responsible for a $254,390 error in taxation," wrote Smith in a packet of information on the audit which was posted on the town of Rockport website. He recommended the implementation of procedures which would ensure that a thorough review of tax assessment calculation is performed prior to the town finalizing their tax commitment.

Smith advised implementing "best" or new accounting and record-keeping practices with regard to the Rockport Public Library's finances, as well as the way in which payments are taken at the town office. Smith said that Rockport's finance director Megan Brackett was in the process of developing a procedural manual for the town which would address some of the uncertainty surrounding, for example, who is appointed to serve as the library's treasurer — something Smith said would be helpful and is long overdue.

"I think that the library is one of the issues that you really need to pay some close attention to. It's a big department, they move a lot of money, and I think that there are a lot of things that need to be revisited and I think that you could get to some better practices and accomplish some of the things that were the wishes of the town some time ago," said Smith. Library Director Ben Blackmon, who was seated in the audience, said that he "wasn't worried."

With regard to the cash collections made at the town office, Smith said he observed that the town posts its cash receipts by teller at varying times throughout the day, rather than at day's end, which makes it difficult to verify daily cash receipts. He recommended that the town post all cash receipts daily at the time of occurrence, to allow for better accuracy. He also noticed that regular cash drawer reviews were not being performed.

Smith advised that the select board sign all warrants at public meetings, to offer an opportunity for public comment or comment by the board. He also said that the board should consider raising the amount of money currently in the reserve fund for sewer and wastewater services.

Rockport's operating budget for the wastewater facility, which is located in Camden, tops off at between $900,000 and $1 million. The current reserve, in the event of an emergency or the replacement of equipment is $30,000. Smith said that the budget is comparable to other oceanfront communities with a wastewater facility, but suggested that reserve funds that are overly-specific (e.g. a fund to replace an engine on one of the town's boats) could be broadened in the event that the emergency funds are needed elsewhere.

Smith estimated that 87 percent of Rockport's finances are generated by taxpayers, rather than TIF accounts or forms of economic development. He said that of the 130 Maine communities he has visited, Rockport is nearly debt free as a result of favorable collections, spending frugally and returning expenses, but advised keeping an eye on the town's fund balance as it relates to their participation in the wastewater treatment facility.

Rockport's unassigned general fund balance for the 2017 fiscal year is $2,637,000, up approximately $320,000 from the previous year.