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County oil and gas auditor resigns

In an unscheduled appearance before the Garfield County Commissioners Monday afternoon, county oil and gas auditor Mary Ellen Denomy tendered her resignation.Denomy was hired two years ago to assist County Assessor Shannon Hurst to audit oil and gas companies over payment of property taxes. Garfield County received $13 million in property tax from oil and gas companies in 2005, which accounts for 55 percent of all property tax paid.Denomy said she has become a target of Hurst’s campaign to retain her seat as county assessor in the November election.”I will not be used as part of a political campaign for either one of the candidates,” she said. Denomy alluded to a comment made by Hurst in last week’s candidates debate in Rifle but was reluctant to quote Hurst’s words.Denomy said she does not want “to become a political punching bag in an election race that has heated up over oil and gas property taxes and accountability.”I am a professional accountant not a politician,” she said. “I work for about 300 clients as well as other counties. I have not endorsed either of the candidates.”Denomy also told the commissioners Hurst has not shared confidential financial documents with her that pertain to the audit. If she were asked to attest to the accuracy of the audit she could not “when I cannot see those documents to compare them. That is an infringement of my ability to attest to an audit,” she said in an interview Monday.In her letter to the commissioners Denomy said, “I cannot continue to assist the County with oil and gas audits if the County Assessor is not open, candid and forthcoming with necessary documents.”Denomy’s resignation Monday came as a surprise to the commissioners.”I didn’t know she was going to come in here and put this forward,” said Commissioner Trési Houpt.By the end of the day, the Board of County Commissioners had time to review the Denomy contract and issued a press release supporting Hurst and the Assessor’s Office.The press release said that the Assessor’s Office did not breach any of the terms of Denomy’s contract, and that the county has never received any written complaints concerning the performance of the Assessors’ Office.Denomy had left a door open in her resignation letter.”I would be glad to assist Garfield County in the future … to do independent professional audits of oil and gas taxes,” it read.But according to the press release that won’t happen.”Based on the public statements that Ms. Denomy tendered to the Board, both verbally and in writing, she has made impossible her future use as an expert with the audits anticipated by the contract,” the statement read.Denomy said she was not actually involved with the current audit. “I was only there to train, not to do,” she said. Over time, she said her original contract with the county was amended from performing the audit herself, to assisting Hurst, to taking her direction concerning the audit. As it played out, Denomy said she spent most of her time showing one of Hurst’s staff who specializes in oil and gas matters how to use spreadsheet computer software.”Spending money for me to do those kinds of things with my expertise was inappropriate,” she said.Hurst said Denomy was hired to show the assessor’s office how to conduct oil and gas audits and not to do it herself. “She misread her contract from the beginning,” Hurst said. “She was never hired to do the audit.”The county commissioners agree. According to its press release, “Ms. Denomy was retained to provide training, advice, and expert testimony” to allow the assessor’s staff to perform the audit.Hurst said she gave Denomy all the documents she asked for.”We have given her every document we received from the gas company,” Hurst said. “I’m not sure what she’s talking about.”Denomy said she did not see original tax returns filed by Williams with the county that outlined income and expenses. “To do an audit, you have to compare sales invoices with what they told the county to begin with,” she said.In the press release, the county asserted that all information that Denomy requested and deemed necessary was provided. The county also said that part of Denomy’s contract was for her to complete a training manual for the Assessor’s Office to use for future audits, but the manual was never completed.Hurst is running against John Gorman, who has said the county is lagging in its current audit of gas developer Williams. He has said if he’s elected he will speed up the process and look into the tax records of other gas companies.Gorman praised Denomy for her work with the county. “From what I understand she is tops in her field,” he said. “One of my main thrusts (in the campaign) for assessor is to get the audits done even if it means bringing in outside people to get it done.”He also said a study published in June by the state auditor determined “that for every dollar spent on the audit you get back $23, that’s not a bad investment.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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