NEWBURGH, Maine — Town officials are hopeful that they can pay $144,000 in past debts to SAD 22 in the next several days, according to Leonard Belcher, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
Belcher said the town is two $72,000 payments behind to the school district because of an embezzlement scheme by a former town employee, Cindy Dunton, who has admitted to stealing nearly $200,000 of taxpayer money. The town has been behind in its payments to the school department since March, when the alleged embezzlement by Dunton was uncovered.
Dunton, the town’s former deputy clerk and treasurer, has not yet been charged in connection with the alleged embezzlement. However, she admitted in an agreement she signed last month with selectmen that she stole $199,536.54 in a four-year span ending in 2010. The incident already has been investigated by an auditor hired by the town and is now in the hands of the Maine State Police and Penobscot County District Attorney Chris Almy. Dunton has not responded to calls from the Bangor Daily News seeking comment.
Belcher said Newburgh residents are in the process of paying tax bills and that the town should have enough money on hand in the coming days — perhaps by the end of this week — to pay the debt to the school department.
“The tax money has been coming in steadily,” Belcher said Tuesday. Asked whether paying debts from the previous fiscal year out of this fiscal year’s revenues would create a shortage of funds in the long run, Belcher said he didn’t anticipate that it would.
“I don’t think we’ll have a problem,” he said. “It’s going to be tight, but I think we’ll be all right.”
The embezzlement and the town’s financial situation have generated considerable controversy in town, erupting at several recent public meetings and on blogs written by Newburgh residents. Some have even called for the town’s three selectmen to resign.
“We’re just trying to move forward and keep the negativity away,” said Belcher. “Until some of these people walk in our shoes at the town office, they don’t know what it’s like trying to deal with this.”
Emil Genest, assistant superintendent of SAD 22, which includes Hampden, Newburgh and Winterport, said his department has been cooperating with Newburgh’s attempts to repay the money, albeit late. Genest said the nonpayment hasn’t affected the district’s operations.
“To be honest, we’re in a comfortable cash position right now,” he said. “We are trying to be a good partner with the town of Newburgh to help them deal with this crisis.”
Newburgh contributes about 10 percent of SAD 22’s overall budget, said Genest, who estimated that the district would have to be $1 million or more short on revenue before there were “major complications.”
“The $144,000 is not a major complication at this point,” he said, adding that he expected Newburgh’s payment “very soon.”
In related news, Belcher said the town will interview six candidates for town manager between now and Aug. 3. Selectmen are trying to replace former Town Manager Nancy Hatch, who resigned in the wake of Dunton’s alleged misdeeds. Hatch has not been implicated in the embezzlement scheme.