GENOLA It wasn't much, but local residents started to get answers from town officials Wednesday night about the alleged embezzlement that left their town's budget $240,000 lighter.
At the start of the town meeting, Mayor Eric Hazelet made a statement shedding more light on "irregularities in (town finances)" that led to 27 felony charges being filed against former town recorder Traci Wright, 41.
He said town officials suspect she took more than $240,000 from public funds beginning as early as 2001. The details he shared provided answers to a few questions raised by townspeople, but not all of them.
"It's a start," Sandra Greenwood said. "I'm sure they've given as much (information) as they can."
Wright is charged with 13 second-degree felonies of misuse of public funds, 13 third-degree felonies of forgery and one charge of theft.
Hazelet said the budget irregularities were brought to light at the beginning of August, and the Utah County Attorney's Office was contacted immediately. In the meantime, he said, he put Wright on paid leave. On Aug. 24, she officially resigned as town recorder.
Hazelet also said the town has its accounts audited each year by the accounting firm of Gilbert & Stewart.
"Our auditors did not catch the alleged embezzlement," he said. As a result, the town will find a new auditing firm before next year's audit.
The town also took immediate actions to guard against any future embezzlements, Hazelet said.
"All the locks were changed on the town building," he said, and the town is switching its computerized auditing system from Quickbook to a more advanced program called Pelorus.
Genola resident Marty Larson said he appreciated the mayor's candor, but then he asked about the possibility of recovering the money.
"Our priority is for restitution of the funds," Hazelet answered, although he admitted he wasn't exactly sure how that would be done.
"I don't understand all the intricacies," he said.
The alleged embezzlement has left the town in a tight financial spot, Hazelet said. Town officials had to take out a bridge loan to pay for a cemetery project and to complete the new public works building. The town has four building lots it was planning to sell to reduce a cemetery bond, but now the money from those sales will pay back the bridge loan, he said.
Genola resident Curtis Thomas said the town just has to power through its financial crisis.
"Through tough times you just have to move on," he said.
In the meantime, the residents are glad town officials are finally divulging what they can about the event, Greenwood said.
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