Wiscasset ended its 2015-2016 fiscal year with $153,743 in departmental over-expenditures; however, voters may not need to be asked for approval to cover them. The Wiscasset Board of Selectmen reviewed the over-expenditures and questioned the presentation of the town’s financial report Tuesday, July 26.
Due to voter approval of the use of surplus to cover departmental over-expenditures at the annual town meeting in June, the board may not need to hold a special town meeting for over-expenditures in the 2015-2016 fiscal year, selectmen said – something Selectman Ben Rines called “shady.”
Despite the departmental over-expenditures, the overall municipal budget ended the fiscal year in the black, Town Manager Marian Anderson said, with the $5.9 million municipal budget ending the fiscal year under-expended by $220,942.
Some of the under-expenditures, however, will not go toward surplus because they were not raised from taxpayers. The year-end and year-to-date financial reports are based on what voters approved at town meeting, and do not distinguish between funds raised through taxes and funds in separate accounts, Anderson said.
A workshop may be needed in the future to tweak the presentation of the financial reports, selectmen said. Surplus will be relied on heavily to reduce the tax commitment for the 2016-2017 year, Rines said. Rines called the under-expended balance of $203,350 on the financial report “misleading,” because it did not indicate the amount that would go into surplus.
The under-expended balance presented on the financial report was $203,350 due to the county tax line item reflecting an over-expenditure of $17,592. However, the county tax payment was correct and the line item was not over-expended, according to a memo Treasurer Shari Fredette sent to selectmen about two months ago.
The budgets for contract services, the ambulance service, the police department, the fire department, the town clerk, administration, the transfer station, the parks and recreation department, and the shellfish committee were all over-expended in 2015-2016, according to the financial report.
The police department’s budget was exceeded by $46,823 with the ambulance service the second-largest over-expenditure at $39,819, according to the report. The contract services budget was over-expended by $29,717, the town clerk budget by $18,767, administration by $8,660, the fire department by $5,419, the parks and recreation department by $2,639, the transfer station by $1,409, and the shellfish committee by $490.
Several of the over-expenditures were the result of the turnover of staff, and the town policy of using the department’s operations budget for the pay-out of sick time and vacation time to departing staff, Anderson said. With open enrollment for health care, it is also difficult to determine the health plan staff will request when setting the budget, she said.
Chair Judy Colby and Vice Chair Judy Flanagan recently established a practice of reviewing the accounts payable every week, Colby said. Issues have come up in their review and invoices have been questioned, she said. “We’re doing our due diligence,” she said.
Responsibility for keeping department budgets in the black rests not only with the department heads, but also with the town manager and the board of selectmen, Colby said. The cost of hiring the Tideview Group to serve as interim directors and facilitate the hiring of a new police chief “was a shock,” Flanagan said, and contributed to the police department’s over-expenditure.
Selectmen discussed establishing a new procedure when departments are heading toward the red to ensure transparency for taxpayers, and to collectively decide how to cut back on spending to keep the budgets in the black.
The use of surplus to cover over-expenditures was approved at the June town meeting, 366-275. While the use of surplus for over-expenditures was not included on the warrant for the 2015 town meeting, which meant a special town meeting would be required to authorize coverage of over-expenditures, no time frame was incorporated on the warrant article approved in June.
Legally, the recently approved warrant article could apply to the previous fiscal year, Anderson said, but Rines disagreed. The selectmen did not decide whether to hold a special town meeting for voter approval of the over-expenditures.