Hodgkins: Paris in better shape than last year

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PARIS — Even with issues discovered during the financial audit, Town Manager Vic Hodgkins said once they’re addressed, Paris will be in a better financial position than last fiscal year.advertiser-logo-jpg-large

From his office in Market Square, he said he called a financial workshop with selectmen recently after he received the town’s draft audit report for the fiscal year 2016. Highlights include:

  • the article to allow the town appropriate money from surplus for overdrafts was not on the town meeting warrant in June – requiring after-the-fact approval from voters for more than $168,000 in overdrafts the town has already paid for.
  • the roughly $94,000 selectmen allocated in May for contingency, capital reserve and an already made bond interest payment never moved from the undesignated fund balance.

He was not sure if anyone noticed the issues prior to the audit, but noted a revolving door of people in the town’s top spot did not help matters.

“Part of the problem during the past year is we had so many different people at the town manager’s position and continuity was not to be found,” Hodgkins said. “It is my strong desire in this current fisal year not to have us at the end of this fiscal year going through these same conversations.”

To rectify the issues, on Monday, Nov. 28, selectmen set a special town meeting before their regular meeting for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.

Overdrafts

The overdrafts total $168,319 from seven different accounts, which were paid for during the past fiscal year that ended June 30.

“If you had this article … on this past warrant … instead of having to go back to the town at this point and ask for ratification of that spending that article would have authorized us to do the accounting for it and make it so,” Hodgkins said. “It just slipped through the cracks.”

According to Hodgkins, reasons for the overdrafts include:

  • two police officers out on worker’s compensation at the same time, which required overtime to fill those shifts.
  • wages, contributions to the state retirement system and lien filings in administration.
  • 53 payroll periods instead of the normal 52, with the extra week not budgeted for.
  • solid waste and recycling came in higher than what was designated at town meeting.
  • unclassifieds were mainly made up of attorney fees and insurance rate increases.
  • more abatements were issued than what was budgeted for in the overlay.
  • the town’s auditor and former Interim Town Manager Sawin Millett made adjustments in the transfer to other funds account for animal control and special revenues.

At the special town meeting, one article will ask voters to ratify the overdraft spending, Hodgkins said. He noted the Maine Municipal Association Municipal Officers Manual that states, “In the unlikely event that the town meeting refuses to authorize an overdraft, and one or more taxpayers want to press the issue in court, it is possible that a judge will order the municipal officers to repay the municipality for the overdrawn amount out of their own personal assets.”

Selectmen at the time include former Selectmen Chairman Mike Risica, former selectmen Robert Wessels, Sam Elliot and Hodgkins, along with current Selectman Janet Jamison.

“At the end of this, I am expecting reasonable minds to prevail,” Hodgkins said about residents authorizing the overdrafts that were already paid for.

Surplus

Hodgkins said, on the bright side, the town has nearly $200,000 more in surplus than in fiscal year 2015.

“What we have overall is a very good story wrapped around a little bit of housekeeping we have to take care of, wrapped around potentially even more good stories,” he said.

At the recommendation of Millett, selectmen in May voted to allocate $93,840 in the undesignated fund balance for $17,919 for the interest payment on bond loan for the Fire Station, $35,000 in contingency and $40,921 into capital funds. At that point, the town’s undesignated fund balance was more than $1.1 million and Hodgkins referred to the town’s Designated and Undesignated Fund Balance Policy.

“It says that the town should shoot for a surplus from 12 to 15 percent to set aside as surplus as an emergency account for the town, and anything above 15 percent can be reallocated depending on what the board wishes to do,” he said.

“As a part of this audit I found that no monies were reallocated for good reason. It needed town approval because you’re spending money from surplus,” Hodgkins continued. “The fact that the town did not vote to move that $93,000 is a no harm no foul situation to the extent that the monies to come from general surplus to be reallocated – those monies are still in general surplus.”

The second article for the special town meeting will ask voters to allocate surplus money into contingency and capital improvements. The bond interest payment has already been paid.

Contingency

To complicate the situation further, Hodgkins said he and selectmen were under the belief the $35,000 had been moved to the contingency account. This past budget cycle only $15,000 was designated for that account and almost all of that money has been spent on back pay for two employees who weren’t classified correctly and ancillary costs associated with the Mildred M. Fox School.

Remaining contingency needs include:

  • upcoming attorney fees.
  • paying Matt Eddy for his work on the town’s tax increment finance district.
  • potential pay increase for Town Clerk Liz Knox as part of the federally mandated wage under the new labor law.
  • union contracts.
  • FICA/Medicare payback.
  • unknowns.

Hodgkins said if voters approve both warrant articles at January’s special town meeting, coupled with the $64,000 in sewer engineering costs already approved at an October special town meeting, the undesignated fund balance would stand at $1,227,331. That is $57,899 more than fiscal 2015’s surplus.

“I really want everybody to know this is a good story. The town of Paris [currently] has over $1.3 million in undesignated surplus. The only debt that the town of Paris has currently is the refinancing of the Fire Station bond,” he said, though there is more on the horizon with the upcoming sewer project. “At the end of the day, the town of Paris should be proud that it has such a stable financial position.”

eplace@sunmediagroup.net

Fiscal year 2016 overdrafts

Administrative services: $31,245

Debt services: $17,983

Law enforcement: $61,660

Solid waste/recycling: $6,047

Unclassified: $40,396

Overlay/abatements: $4,118

Transfer to other funds: $6,870

Total: $168,319