SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 18, 2013

An open letter to Wenham selectmen


The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

An open letter to the Wenham Board of Selectmen:

After attending the April 6 Town Meeting, I am very concerned about our town’s government and budget.

I took more notes than I have in the prior five years. I would like to describe my concerns in the order in which they arose at the meeting:

1. Town administrator — It appears that there is a discrepancy in the number of hours in workweeks for our employees. Some employees are billing 52 hours, and some are billing 52.2. The discussion led me to believe this is simply an accounting error and will be corrected. This would not be much of an issue if it was the only accounting problem.

2. Reserve fund — There is currently only $5,500 in the reserve account. This seems to be a very low balance.

3. Assessors — The budget was short $779 due to an accounting issue.

4. Finance director — Outsourcing may save money for the town, but I am in favor of returning to a finance director. I am very concerned about the revenue items that are known to be overstated, the tax bills that have been found to be in error, delays in processing tax payments, questions about reconciling our books, and a feeling that we would be better served by a trusted individual in that position.

5. Mark Andrews’ comments:

The decision to outsource our finances was made under duress. This may be true, but have we looked for qualified candidates? There are many out-of-work finance professionals. I don’t believe we’d find a lack of candidates.

Bond rating still stable. Bond ratings look backward. The ramifications of today’s decisions could very easily impact that rating.

No audit will be done until we’re caught up. I’m not sure what we need to catch up on, but this is troubling.

Will the state Department of Revenue approve our tax rate/budget? I’m fearful that we will not have proper revenue given the Council on Aging and library funding from Hamilton, cemetery transfer issue, and tax bill errors.

6. Minutes clerk. The clerk should have gotten a $100 raise, which was missing from the budget. Again, this is an accounting issue. Too many accounting issues lead to questions of competency and possibly honesty.

7. Cemetery transfer. This seems to be an accounting trick to avoid $10,000 from hitting our tax bill.

8. Council on Aging. Hamilton is no longer sharing services, and our revenue is, therefore, overstated. I don’t know if this position (director) should be part time. Hamilton has decided to maintain a full-time employee.

9. Merit increase. I was happy to see this removed and the money put back in the reserve fund. This seems to be a poor way to negotiate with our employees, stating in the budget what our upper limit is.

10. Sandra Stolle’s comment that the town should approve the new format. I completely agree, and Sandra and I rarely agree on anything.

11. Date of meeting incorrect on Article 1. Small error that, by itself, is insignificant, but these minor errors are compounding.

I did not like the new format of voting on the budget. I hope you give serious consideration to going back to the town approving salaries and expenses. I feel that this process works and leaves little chance of misuse of funds.

I commend the board for moving Chief Blanchard from part-time to full-time employee. I believe, unless compelling evidence is provided, that the finance director should be brought back in-house and funded appropriately.

I also believe that we can find a better town administrator. Mr. Andrews was combative, dismissive and condescending. I pay his salary. I don’t want to pay him any longer.

Patrick Waddell

Wenham