By Beth David, Editor
The Acushnet Selectboard acknowledged at its meeting on Tuesday, 2/21, that the town accounting office has a backlog and too much work for the new Town Accountant, Julie Hebert, to handle without an assistant.
Ms. Hebert told the board that she had backlogs with sewer betterments, reconciliation, abatements, and commitments, while she needs to be focused on the budget process.
She also stressed that the assistant accountant cannot work in the Treasurer’s office, as the town had done in the past.
Ms. Hebert explained that the “segregation of duties” is mandated and is important to make sure that no one person has control in both offices. The idea is to prevent fraud and embezzlement, but it also helps to make sure that honest mistakes are not repeated in both offices.
The board agreed with Ms. Hebert that the position needed to be filled.
Selectboard member Kevin Gaspar noted that the town did have an assistant accountant, so this was not a new position. He reminded residents that the board had hoped not to fill that position to save money.
“So, it’s not really a new hire,” said Mr. Gaspar, adding that it was unfortunate that the town could not split the position with the Treasurer’s Office, saying, “we need to be compliant.”
“There are areas of town government where being compliant doesn’t matter as much,” said Mr. Gaspar, but accounting is not one of them.
In a related matter, the board also voted to hire the firm of Melanson Heath to conduct the town audit.
Ms. Hebert told the board that she had used the firm before and they were “very thorough.”
Ms. Hebert said that after the turnover in her office and the Treasurer’s office, a temporary firm was brought in so there were “lots of hands touching the books.”
She said she wanted to get an audit done as soon as possible to start out with a clean fiscal slate.
The firm knows the town’s situation, she said, adding that $25,000 for the audit is a “really good offer.”
Town Administrator Brian Noble agreed with Ms. Hebert, telling the board that he, too, was familiar with the firm.
Selectboard member Michael Cioper agreed, saying that he has been “an advocate of doing an outside audit,” in the past.
Mr. Gaspar said he agreed that the audit needed to be done “sooner rather than later.”
If there are any problems, the town needs to know now, and know how they happened so they can fix them. The longer they wait, the more difficult it will be to fix.
“You don’t let your accounting go to hell and then figure out how to fix it,” said Mr. Gaspar.
All three board members praised Ms. Hebert for working hard to get the town’s books in order after both the accounting and treasurer’s offices lost key personnel.
In another matter the board addressed letters from residents about road conditions on Leonard Street and conditions at Pope Park.
Leonard Street residents Joseph Fernandes and Stephen Reale wrote to the board complaining about the “dramatic change” of the newly paved road. They write that the road is “substantially higher and in some areas wider than the previous road.”
The letter says that driveways have been cut by town employees to raise the grade without notification or permission.
“These unsightly patched aprons installed were made in an attempt to match the ridiculously high road that we are left to deal with,” they wrote, adding that homeowners now face additional cost to deal with flooding caused by the changes.
The situation has caused safety concerns for bikers, runners and walkers; the new road encourages “excessive speeding,” which has also increased noise levels.
“A clear runway has been created from Middle Road East permanently altering the character of this once rural area,” reads the letter, and also cites environmental concerns and danger to well water.
The board noted that the Department of Public Works is not finished with the road, which was originally constructed more than 30 years ago.
“You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” said Mr. Gaspar.
Mr. Cioper, however, noted that the changes have caused some yards to “puddle up,” forcing at least one homeowner to put a “bump” at the end of the driveway to keep the water out.
Selectboard chairperson Garry Rawcliffe noted that the board is seeking authority from town meeting to be able to change speed limits on local roads without TM approval.
Meanwhile, the board asked Mr. Noble to ask the police department to increase patrols to control speeding.
Anthony Rose and Anna Tansey sent a letter to the board dated February 1, which referred to a June letter asking for speed bumps/tables in front of homes on Pope Street, and to consider making Pope Street a one-way.
The town did make the street one-way, but, according to Mr. Rose and Ms. Tansey, people are, pretty much, simply ignoring the signs.
“We are grateful the Town heard our concerns and put measures in place to improve the safety of the community,” they wrote. “We are writing to inform you that much of the traffic does not obey the new street signs and thus continues to travel down Pope Street in the wrong direction at very high speeds.”
They asked for the “Do Not Enter” sign to be moved and for speed bumps to be installed.
In the February, 2017 letter, Mr. Rose and Ms. Tansay also wrote about the conditions at Pope Park playground.
“They playground has become unkempt and a safety hazard for visitors,” they wrote, and detailed problems with the swings, slide and other play areas. “The park is riddled with litter and is unhealthy for families to be subjected to.”
“The park is the first thing you see when you turn down the street and does not make a lasting impression,” they wrote. “With the baseball fields being so well kept, it would be nice to make Pope Park as pleasant an area as well.”
The board voted to forward the letter to the Park Department, Safety Committee, DPW, and Community Preservation Committee.
In other business, the board awarded the contract for the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan to Woodard and Curran for $340,000.
The plan will study a variety of issues, including where the town has water and sewer service and where it is feasible to extend it.
Mr. Gaspar reiterated his oft-mentioned lament that the town does not have enough commercial/ industrial zoning, resulting in residential taxpayers paying a high rate.
He said the CWMP will help identify places where industry can be located.
The board also discussed the fate of a parcel of land on the Fairhaven border near New Boston Road. The piece is just under 30 acres, with most of it in Acushnet. The Buzzards Bay Coalition has expressed an interest in acquiring the piece for open space purposes.
The town has the right of first refusal, as the property was in Chapter 61, giving the owners a tax break for keeping it undeveloped.
They now want to sell it to be developed, so the town has the right to buy the portion in Acushnet. The owners have an offer of $376,000. The town would have to match that offer. The deal is complicated by the fact that some of the property is over the line; Fairhaven also has the right of first refusal for the Fairhaven parcel.
Mr. Cioper suggested that the town exercise its right to first refusal, but assign the rights to BBC.
“I’m not looking to buy it,” said Mr. Cioper. “I’m looking to hold it for the Coalition.”
The board will discuss it again at its 3/6 meeting. Meanwhile, the Planning Commission will also need to make a recommendation.
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