“Is anybody else incensed about that letter?” Marion Finance Committee member Alan Minard asked, broaching the subject of a letter the Board of Selectmen handed to Minard and FinCom Chairman Peter Winters during the selectmen’s February 5 meeting. “It was a passive aggressive kickback because we wouldn’t approve that [Reserve Fund transfer request],” said Minard.
This most recent contention between the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee started in January when the FinCom held off on approving a request to transfer $7,412 from the Reserve Fund to cover the cost of Town Administrator Paul Dawson’s 5.9 percent wage increase. The committee found the transfer unnecessary because there should be enough in the town administrator budget line item to cover Dawson’s salary up until he retires in mid-March. Another $25,000 would still be available to fund Dawson’s replacement until the fiscal year ends June 30.
Finance Committee member Alan Minard and Chairman Peter Winters attended the selectmen’s February 5 meeting to address the delay in issuing the transfer, explained how once Reserve Fund money is transferred that it is no longer available for other unexpected emergencies, and did not waiver in their decision to deny the transfer request. But before leaving, Board of Selectmen Chairman Norm Hills slipped Minard and Winters a letter.
The content of the letter, obtained later by The Wanderer, was unrelated to the Reserve Fund transfer request, rather it suggests that Finance Committee meetings should be “more accessible to the public.” The letter, signed by all three selectmen, advises the committee to change its meeting location from the 13 Atlantis Drive building to either the Town House or the police station, establish a consistent meeting schedule, and arrange for ORCTV recording of the meetings.
“We, as Selectmen, believe transparency is important and that nowhere is it more important than with the Town’s finances,” the letter states. The selectmen proposed taking those actions immediately, “given that it is the budgeting season and it is critical for the Town to be totally open regarding the budget challenges it is facing,” and advised the committee to confirm by February 19 that the actions have been taken.
Although none of the finance committees in the Tri-Town currently video record their meetings, the Marion Finance Committee did not overtly oppose the idea, nor did members find a change in meeting venue or a more predictable meeting schedule to be disagreeable. It was the timing and the delivery of the suggestions that raised eyebrows Wednesday night.
“They are accusing us of doing exactly the same things that they did,” said Minard, “and frankly, that humped me off.”
Minard also took issue with what he called “another Finance Committee snub.” Minard requested that, as a Finance Committee member, the selectmen appointment him to the committee created to assist in the search for the new town administrator – however, he was not.
“We understand better than anybody in the town what the job is about,” said Minard.
“How extraordinary,” remarked FinCom member Margie Baldwin.
“This is just more passive aggressive baloney that’s coming out of the center of the Select Board,” said Minard. Turning again to the letter, he remarked, “This is retribution.”
In other matters, the Finance committee questioned a number of increases in various budgets that have been submitted to the committee so far, including the administration line item of the Department of Public Works, Fire Department and Marine Resources wages, and the Council on Aging.
“Fire Department wages is going up $25,000,” said Winters. “I don’t know what percentage that is, but …”
“He keeps adding full-time people without asking anybody,” said Minard.
“There’s going to be no ratepayer relief,” said Winters. “People are going to be thrilled about that.”
“They (Town Hall) want a personnel person, they want an IT person, so now we’ve spent the entire 2.5 percent [tax] increase,” said Minard.
“Then we have the lagoon situation,” Baldwin said.
The FinCom also criticized the ongoing practice of providing “longevity bonuses” to town employees who have already reached the top contractual pay step.
“It’s like a Christmas bonus because it’s paid out in December, but it’s not merit-based because we don’t review anybody,” said Winters.
“Everybody gets a trophy,” said Minard.
The committee is also concerned about the Planning Board’s request to make part-time Town Planner Gil Gilario a full-time employee. In light of the requested increases, Winters commented, the committee will be forced to “take the razor blade out this year and say ‘No’, ‘No’, and ‘No’.”
Since sitting on the committee, Winters commented, FinCom has only ever cut back on requests for budget increases. “We haven’t ‘cut’ anything.” He said, “You would think that we were cutting things to the bone, but we’re not. We’re cutting increases so we don’t have to do an operational override.”
“The taxpayers are gonna go bonkers,” said Minard.
In other business, there are currently three empty seats on the Finance Committee, two of them as alternate members. Interested residents should send a letter of interest to Paul Dawson, town administrator. Finance Committee members are appointed by the chairmen of the Board of Selectmen and Marion School Committee, and the town moderator.
The next meeting of the Marion Finance Committee is scheduled for February 13 at 6:00 pm in the conference room of 13 Atlantis Drive.
Marion Finance Committee
By Jean Perry