standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY – The town and School Department are disputing the findings of a payroll audit conducted on behalf of the labor union that represents the town’s Public Works Department employees as well as school district bus drivers, secretaries, and maintenance workers.

The audit, performed on behalf of Laborers International Union of North America, found that contributions to employees’ pension funds were underpaid during the audited period, January 2011 – December 2013. The total underpayment to schools employees, including interest, was about $150,000, according to Salter & Company LLC., a Maryland-based accounting firm that performed the audit. The firm found that public works employees’ pensions were short changed by about $29,000.

Town Manager J. Mark Rooney, who started working for the town in May, said he asked town staff to review Salter & Company and the union’s findings after he learned of the audit findings. The town was first notified of the audit results in early February.

“We determined their number is wrong and offered to pay what we felt was appropriate,” Rooney said.

As of Thursday, Rooney said town and School Department staff are waiting to hear back from the union on the town’s offer. Karen Hazard, Laborers International Union of North America business manager, did not return a message seeking comment for this article.

Barbara Perino, who now serves as the School Department finance director and previously served for about 10 months as the town’s interim finance director until May,  said  audits performed on behalf of the union occur periodically on a routine basis to confirm employee hours are being accounted for properly under terms of union contracts.

The town and School Department believe some of the underpayment alleged by the union is based on erroneous calculations. In some cases the difference between the sides is a matter of “contract interpretation,” Perino said.

The bulk of the money the union claims employees are owed is interest, Perino said.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com