The Animal Welfare Board ultimately felt it would be in the Unicoi County Animal Shelter’s best interest to outsource the bookkeeping. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

In its Dec. 28 meeting, the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board voted to outsource the majority of the Unicoi County Animal Shelter’s bookkeeping tasks by accepting a financial services proposal from Rodefer Moss & Company.

Under the agreement, for a monthly fee of $500 the financial firm would be responsible for identifying any errors with the monthly financial statement and reconcile those statements with the shelter’s checking accounts as well as prepare monthly invoices that are approved by the board.

It will also move the majority of the shelter’s banking to Quickbooks Online and provide monthly accounts payable payment reconciliation as well as recording and tracking all income, expenses, and deposits and prepare the shelter’s annual federal form 990, an Internal Revenue Services form required from non-profit organizations. 

“This will all be very streamlined,” said Joann Tatro, Animal Welfare Board chairman. “If we were to keep this in house, we would have to look at having more of a professional accounting person to perform those duties. … That would probably be a minimum of $15 per hour and at least 30 hours per week.”

Travis Bishop, a CPA with Rodefer Moss, attended the meeting on behalf of the financial firm to assist with any questions the board members had regarding the new way of handling the shelter’s finances. In the previous Animal Welfare Board meeting, Bishop had also volunteered his own personal time to serve as the board’s financial advisor.

A few issues that grabbed Bishop’s attention with the way the finances have been handled at the shelter stemmed from issues with the shelter requiring two-signer checks, and handwritten receipts.

In addition to removing the time spent that board members have to physically sign checks, by using Quickbooks online everything could be tracked and accessed electronically. Bishop added that it would provide more accountability and oversight by removing the majority of the accounting duties from the hands of one person.

Up until now, the majority of the shelter’s accounting duties have been performed by one worker at the shelter, and due to the time demands of those tasks and the small staff at the shelter, they have had to hire another part-time worker to work the front desk in order to free up time for that employee to complete those financial duties.

“Right now the way it is, that employee would have the ability to receive transactions, record the deposit, record the disbursement, and they’re the only one in the software making the journal entries,” Bishop added. “There’s no board oversight. That’s a lot of trust to place on that one person, which you should never, ever do. That’s not just with the shelter, but any organization.”

While she acknowledged that something needed to change with how the finances were being handled, Melissa Dagastino, co-chairman-elect, questioned whether or not there was a way to strengthen internal controls without outsourcing the financial duties.

“I really don’t think we can afford $500 a month right now, and I’m not saying that we couldn’t do it down the road, but in my opinion we need to think about how to get through this tough time,” Dagastino told the board. “Jessica Rogers (Unicoi County Animal Shelter Director), hasn’t been able to even do anything with animals that are sick. I’m just asking if we can buy time before we do this.”

Tatro responded to Dagastino by saying that she felt they were in these tough times because they didn’t have anyone at the shelter who could take the time to do the accounting.

“This isn’t against anyone’s abilities, but they are so covered up with daily duties that there just isn’t time to get to the accounting,” Tatro said.

Dagastino asked Bishop if he felt they could afford the $500 a month charge at this time. He added that they wouldn’t need to do the annual review from an outside agency this year, which costs them $2,000, if they were to outsource the financial tasks.

“I look at this matter from the perspective of strength, and to me the shelter’s strength is with animals, animal care, and adoptions, not accounting,” said Chris Oetjen, Animal Welfare Board secretary. “Rodefer Moss’s abilities don’t lie with animal care … it’s with accounting. I really feel strongly that these two should be separated.”

Dagastino asked if they had asked for or received any bids from other financial firms besides Rodefer Moss & Co. for accounting services. Tatro responded that they had not, and that they could possibly find a cheaper rate; however, she felt it was advantageous to the shelter to have the assistance of Bishop, who was already abreast on the shelter’s programs and current financial struggles.

Ginger Ray, chairman-elect for the Animal Welfare Board, asked Bishop what he typically charges small businesses for these services. Bishop responded that typical charges would include rates over $100 per hour, and if the job requires more than five hours each month, which he added it will, that would already be exceeding the $500 per month rate he provided to the shelter.

“It’s my personal and professional feeling that we cannot afford to not do this. … This will give us more time to focus on everything else,” Ray said.

Ray made a motion to accept the proposal from Rodefer Moss & Co. Oetjen seconded the motion, and it passed in a 4-1 vote with Linda Mathes, Chris Oetjen, Ginger Ray and Joann Tatro voting in favor and Melissa Dagastino voting in opposition of accepting the proposal.

The Animal Welfare Board’s next meeting will be held on Thursday, Jan. 11, at 4 p.m. at Erwin Town Hall.