I went to Antrim’s Selectman Meeting last night, November 23. Antrim is the town of 2,600 making news for finally admitting it has a huge deficit going back at least to 2006. Between the deficit and money owed for 2009 the total is almost the same as an entire year’s budget, around 3 million dollars.
The story hit the papers two Thursdays ago and I stopped by the DRA to see if I could get any info on what caused this mess. I was assigned a badge and walked in as the DRA person in charge of Antrim was shuffling through old Municipal Services Forms, Town audits, and DRA Auditor Checklists from Antrim. I asked for any relevant documents regarding what I had read in the papers about this being primarily a matter of improperly accounted for bridge reconstruction money. I walked away with some interesting stuff.
In 2006 the internal documents from DRA show they had problems such as $700K in FEMA and State Bridge Aid not received, $106K in taxes not billed and the Town had listed only half the receivables the auditor found they had. The top of the DRA Auditor Checklist states that there was a deficit in 2006, about $200K I can figure.
In 2007 the same DRA forms show, from what I can see, about $500K in deficit. Written notes from the DRA listed several Tax Collector problems such as mismatched amounts in three areas. And in the Selectman’s notes “Many overstated revenues” and “Mistakes in previous years compounding the deficit.”
What is really telling is an attached email dated May 10, 2008 to the DRA from a former Town Administrator which shows he had not a clue as to what the real extent of the problem was.
So at the Monday night meeting with about 80-100 Antrim residents in the Town Hall I took the public opportunity, as Chairman of The Coalition of NH Taxpayers, to ask the Selectmen of Antrim if they, as individuals, would support the adoption of RSA 32, The Municipal Budget Law, and have an official Budget Committee for the Town. And before they could answer I added that CNHT would start immediately to train potential candidates so that in March, should the voters adopt RSA 32, the new Budget Committee could hit the road running and help put Antrim finances back on track. CNHT would also connect the Antrim people with budget committee members from other towns and try to answer their questions. I explained that with a Bud Com there would be institutional knowledge in the hands of the committee members no matter how many town administrators and selectmen came and went – a problem in Antrim.
Several people clapped. I think I heard one selectman said yes. But I know one selectman asked the Town Administrator if he thought it was a good idea and he responded that sometimes budget committees were a problem themselves. (Often problems with towns start when selectmen ask other people how they should do their job.)
It will take 25 signatures to get a Bud Com on the ballot in March. Antrim voters are facing a minimum $4.00 per thousand tax increase to fix the mess they have. CNHT will give taxpayers in Antrim the proper Petition for RSA 32.
Let’s see what happens.