Amherst In Learning Curve-Ball

One would think the taxpayers of Amherst, NH would know by now, but here we go again.

I have been reading some of the Selectman’s Minutes and it seems kind of odd that they had to “adjust” their records by a tad over $11 million dollars to get the books in order before an audit.

No problem, says the finance director! (And they have a finance Director?) Just a lack of data entry - for a while.

11/26/12 Minutes:

Vice Chair Brew asks about the next target audit date. Director Hebert (Finance Director, Paul Hebert) states it is set for December 10th. but he is concerned that if the cash accounts are not balanced before an auditor it will not be done by this date. It is possible the audit could be completed in the first quarter of 2013.

Town Administrator O'Mara asks Director Hebert if he can elaborate on the total amount of adjustments that Tom has made to date. Director Hebert does not want to cause concerns, because the funds are there, they just were not booked appropriately or transfers posted; however, so far they have moved 11.5 million dollars worth of adjustments. The majority of that is when the Town collects taxes those funds are transferred into CD and the entries were never booked. The activities were never posted in order to get the General Leger to match what the bank has and the Treasurer’s numbers.

And further along we find that the Police Department has paid some $66,000.00 in extra pay to officers for unused vacation. But this was beyond what was part of the agreed upon vacation buy-back plan.

The excuse for this is that Amherst is so short on officers that they have to work their vacations. (For $66 large you could probably pick up a part time guy?)

And there was the Highway Dept. truck that was bought somehow, by somebody, from somewhere after the voters said NO.

This deal gets fuzzy.

From the Amherst Selectman’s Minutes 10/22/12:

The vehicle was already in bad shape to begin with. The Board authorized a five year lease/purchase for approximately $150,000 to purchase a new dump truck. The thought was that each year $30,000.00 cost to maintain and repair this truck, in the long run, it would cost the Town less by making the purchase. In addition, we would be guaranteed to have a truck that works. This was all done publicly and was a good decision. We then remitted a check for $150,000 for the purchase of the entire dump truck, while the lease purchase agreement was being processed. The expectation was that once the funding for the lease purchase came through, we would then reimburse the $150,000.00 to the General Fund.

This is not a great policy. It has been done before in Amherst and in other towns. Unfortunately, because we are in a default budget, we found out after the truck was purchased in full, we cannot enter into a lease purchase. The default budget precludes us from entering into a lease/purchase agreement; however, we had already purchased the truck. The Board was notable to vote formally to purchase the truck; although, for all intents and purposes, we probably would have because we needed the truck. Immediately the Board and the Town Administrator began an investigation to figure out what happened, how a check goes out the door to purchase a truck without any formal authorization. What we found was the procedures in the Town were formalized but not as enforced or as strict as they should have been. This had been going on for years, possible over five plus years, or decades. This was not a new process. We are a small Town, it was informal, and it had been done like this for a long time. What the Board and the Treasurer did immediately was to put in stricter and more formal procedures to prevent any check from leaving this building without at least three (3) Board of Selectmen, the Town been put into place decades ago, but it wasn’t.

The improvements have been made and this will not occur again in the future, but what we have is a $150,000 truck which we needed, but we now have the challenge to figure out where the funds are going to come from between now and the end of the fiscal year to pay for this. We don’t have enough information to know where it is going to come other than it has been expended and we certainly will not expend more than what was approved by the voters allocated for the year. Today we actually formally voted to purchase the truck in one of the manifests. The loop has been closed, but it has been an arduous couple of months to figure out what went wrong and to improve it.

Vice-Chair Brew – Thanked Selectman Galinson for his clear explanation of a confusing situation. The most important part is that we identified holes in our procedures and those. This is a truck that we needed because of problems and at the least it was $30,000 in repairs which was not going to make it like new. Thank you for laying that out.

Now I don’t want to be too hard on the Amherst Selectmen but didn’t they have a someone in the town office who admitted to stealing about $40,000.00 not that long ago? My memory says yes.

And as with most municipal theft the figure admitted to is always a few zeros at the end SHY of what the auditors and prosecutors found. (See Ashland, Carroll, Litchfield, and Windsor for recent examples.)

I don’t have all the skinny yet on this but here goes:

After the new Town Administrator, Jim O’Mara, figures out what is going on he gets his walking papers from the town? Now that don’t seem right – but it sounds sneaky and underhanded.

Note to Amherst Selectmen:

When you terminate someone with a long contract for “fuzzy” reasons, it may come back to haunt you for a lot more bling than the sneaky truck buy.

Just say’in.