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Wakefield selectmen challenged on MRI study funding


by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News
February 16, 2012
WAKEFIELD — During the public comment period at their Feb. 8 meeting Wakefield selectmen were challenged on their decision to "encumber" or carry over from 2011 unexpended funds to pay for an analysis of town services.

On Dec. 28 last year the board voted unanimously to carry over $30,000 for a study of the town by Municipal Resources, Inc. (MRI) and on Jan. 11 Don Junton of MRI discussed the scope of MRI's review of town operations at a Board of Selectmen's meeting. Selectmen hope that an impartial study and comparison of Wakefield's operations with similar towns might identify areas where services can be restructured and money saved.

The subject came up again at the Wakefield Deliberative Session on Feb. 4 when Donna Faucette tried to make a motion that would change town policy so that the selectmen could not spend any money out of surplus without proof of an emergency or without it having been approved on a Town Meeting warrant article. She argued that selectmen should not have voted to spend $37,000 just because there was leftover money in the 2011 budget. Her motion was not allowed by Town Counsel Rick Sager because it was not appropriate to the "other business" part of the session where she brought it up.

Faucette came to the Feb. 8 meeting to raise the subject again, accompanied by two planning board members, Chair Peg Stevenson and member (and former selectman) Johnny Blackwood.

Faucette began by asking what dollar amount of a proposed expenditure would require that it be put out for bids.

Chairman Ken Paul answered $5,000.

Faucette then said she assumed there were bids solicited for the town assessment.

Selectman Peter Kasprzyk responded that there was another firm but it couldn't offer all of the services needed.

After determining that the MRI study would be completed by April, Faucette complained that the work would be done while the town's seasonal population was not present.

Selectman Mark Duffy replied that the study and comparisons would be done on a year-round basis and not be affected by the presence of seasonal residents.

Faucette asked if MRI recommends a part time building inspector, would the board follow the recommendation?

Paul said the board would consider that recommendation and any others. He said the board hopes the study will pay for itself from savings in the first year.

Blackwood asked what emergency required that the $35,700 encumbered be spent and why can't the study be done in town?

Paul said last year the board tried to propose that the Town Clerk and Tax Collector positions be combined, and that proposal "got politicized." "This study will compare Wakefield with lots of other towns – something we can't do. Getting a professional opinion is better than getting just anybody's opinion."

Kasprzyk added, "This is a $12 million corporation. We need a business plan." MRI will provide comparisons with similar-sized towns.

Blackwood stated flatly, "$35,000 is just too much money."

Stevenson asked, "Shouldn't there be an Errors and Omissions insurance to make sure if we don't get results we don't have to pay for the study?"

Kasprzyk asked, "How can you do that if you don't take the advice?"

Stevenson then turned to her particular grievance: "The planning board was not aware that $35,700 for professional services would be encumbered. No one had the courtesy to say." She pointed out that the land use boards were $21,000 under budget in 2011 and now will be reported as spending $35,000. "The encumbrance has nothing to do with land use," she complained. It should have been in the selectmen's budget. Now the land use boards will get a black eye. "Have you considered the impact on the planning board budget?" she asked.

Kasprzyk pointed out that the land use boards had asked $6,000 to be encumbered, which it was. "The whole budget is the Board of Selectmen's budget – we get the black eye if it goes over."

Town Administrator Teresa Williams explained that the state Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) filled out the town's required expense report form and chose where to place the $35,700. "It had to be placed in a line for consultant fees according to both DRA and the Local Government Center." Only the planning board had such a line.

Stevenson asked why the money was not put in last year's budget. Duffy explained that the matter came from an issue that arose last fall.

Faucette said "It would be easier to stomach if there were three bids."

Blackwood repeated that there was not an emergency that required the money to be encumbered.

Williams clarified that the state budget form MS-7 explains that the $35,700 was encumbered by the Board of Selectmen. A copy of that form will be in the annual report.

Paul then brought the public comment period to an end.

Other business

The board was given a copy of the purchase and sale agreement for $150,000 for two Union Meadow properties by Conservation Commission Chair Dave Mankus, who reviewed the details of the proposal, which should cost the town no more than $30,000 from existing conservation funds. Please see separate article on that discussion.

Williams reported that police had investigated the resident complaint about a darkened street light on Emery Lane selectmen heard on Jan. 25 and found that the light had been removed from the pole. There are two other lights nearby and police felt there was no hazard.

Attorney Kate Miller has written to say it is time to follow up on the cable contract submitted to Time Warner. Duffy agreed to be the cable contact until he goes off the board on March 16.

Williams reported Dan Davis is having trouble finding a used pickup truck for the highway department. He has found a new V8 Ford diesel with an eight-foot Fisher plow for $42,290. The board asked that other brands and dealers be searched for a suitable used model.

Davis has also reported that the 2001 10-wheel dump truck will also not pass inspection in March because the body is rusted out. Davis has found a leasing option. Selectmen were skeptical about the condition of the truck and Kasprzyk agreed to take a look at it. "There's no way that truck should need to be replaced," commented Blackwood from the audience.

The next meeting of the Wakefield Board of Selectmen will be on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.

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