Questioning EMS’s “Funky” Accounting

He did not have a problem with Police Chief Mary Lyons’s fiscal year 2015 budget, per se – but he did have a problem with the way the Police Department’s bookkeeper has been appropriating (or, rather, not appropriating) expenditures to their proper line items.

Finance Committee Member Gary Johnson physically appeared uncomfortable upon discussing Lyons’s ambulance budget. His brow furrowed with Chief Lyons’s casual response to his question about why the department’s FY14 ambulance “medical supplies and equipment” line item was almost empty, but the ambulance “equipment” line item of $13,900 has not even been touched yet.

“[That’s the] secretary,” said Lyons. “She doesn’t always know what all the equipment is.” She then implied that it is not the line item that is really important. “It comes down to the bottom line, not the line item,” said Lyons.

FinCom Member Elizabeth Pennington suggested just getting rid of one of the line items and lumping them both together.

“Why have that extra level of difficulty?” asked Chairman Patricia Donoghue, concurring with Pennington. “It’s just a pain in the butt.”

“Like Mary said, it comes down to the bottom line,” said Town Administrator Michael Gagne, also concurring. He said it all came down to the secretary. “It’s a guess,” he added.

Johnson’s face looked visibly pained.

“Is it (the equipment expended) going to be used for more than a year?” asked Johnson, trying to differentiate between ambulance equipment and medical supplies and equipment.

Lyons said some orders include supplies and equipment from both categories on the same invoice, so the entire invoice gets appropriated to the same line item, regardless.

“What are these, low I.Q. people?” asked Donoghue. “I mean, you can’t explain it to them?” Donoghue asked Lyons.

Well, the numbers in town government are not as clear-cut as corporations, Lyons replied.

“Are these the right amounts to be allocated?” asked Johnson, referring to the $13,800 supplies line item from FY14 still untouched, while Lyons is requesting $15,000 for the line item in FY15.

Gagne said he would ask for a FY13 report to answer Johnson’s question.

Johnson’s face remained the same for the rest of the discussion, which turned to the Police budget and the salary-related line items, like part-time wages, which prompted a gasp, a “whoa,” and a swear word from Donoghue.

“I know you’re having a heart attack over the part-time wages, but let me explain,” said Lyons.

She said, when an officer takes a vacation or a sick day, the full-time officers have first right of refusal for covering the shift. If no one takes it, it is offered to the part-timers.

Also contributing to the part-time line item’s increase, Lyons said the holiday coverage line item is down $58,000 because she lumped some of it in with the part-time line item, contributing to the increase in that line item.

Some more “funky” accounting, as Gagne put it, came up during the discussion when Donoghue said she did not understand why the FY14 “career incentive” line item remains unexpended, although Lyons explained that the officers career incentive pay is added to their paychecks all throughout the year. It was presumed that this way of appropriating was easier for the one doing the bookkeeping.

Johnson said he thought the bookkeeper should at least make the correct appropriations every quarter throughout the year.

There was further discussion on differential rates, the extra $1.20 per hour paid to officers who work the second and third shifts, and the annual increases in pay. Also, one new cruiser is added to the budget every year, and Lyons stated that Mattapoisett is moving toward eventually replacing all its cruisers with Chevy Tahoes.

The total for the police budget for FY15 is $1,930,823, up $162,523 from FY14.

Also during the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Doug White and School Committee Chairman Jim Higgins presented the Mattapoisett schools budget, with White staying behind to go over the Old Rochester Regional High School budget.

Before budget talks, Pennington brought up the ORR cyber-theft incident, just acknowledging that Gagne had sent White a number of questions about the theft, and recognized that perhaps White could not yet discuss the matter if it was an on-going investigation; however, the Tri-Town selectmen along with the three FinComs, are looking to meet with the School Department in the foreseeable future.

White listened, but said nothing, turning to the budget and summarizing the line items.

The school budget is up $109,770, or 1.8%, from last year, mainly due to salary and other contractual obligations.

The Bristol County Agricultural Technical Vocational High School numbers are also going up, with White explaining that tuition has increased to $18,000 per student, and three more students will be attending Bristol Aggie next year, for a total of eight.

Special education spending is down significantly, although the out of district line item is most likely underfunded in the FY15 budget, according to White. He said he had received word that a new student would be moving to the district with significant educational needs, but since then, the student has still not moved to Mattapoisett. That does not mean the student will not, though, but White based the budget on the actual students, not possible future ones.
“This is not where I’m going to torture you,” said Donoghue to White, who smiled with a puzzled look on his face. “It’s ORR,” she said.

The ORR FY15 budget stands at $16,567,868 as proposed by the School Committee. Take out the debt and reimbursement for transportation, said White, along with Chapter 70 state funding and income from revenue sources, the total number to be split among the three towns amounts to $12,149,171. Of this, Mattapoisett’s share is $4,470,450 – a decrease of $105,175 from FY14. Rochester’s and Marion’s assessments both went up from FY14.

White explained that each of the three towns pays above and beyond the State’s minimum requirement for the regional school.

Johnson said he would wager that most Mattapoisett residents are unaware that the Town spends above the State’s required minimum.

“I don’t think most of the people in this town even know what the budget is,” added Pennington.

There were some concerns about ORR’s dwindling reserve fund, and unfunded liabilities such as health insurance, major repairs, and Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB).

Gagne stressed that ORR needs to build up it reserve, as hard as it may be to do so.

The next Mattapoisett Finance Committee meeting is on March 27 at 6:30 pm at the Town Hall.

By Jean Perry


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