Newburgh manager pushes new spending controls

Posted Oct. 18, 2010, at 11:26 p.m.

NEWBURGH, Maine — A lot has changed since Rick Briggs took over as town manager one month ago.

Still reeling from the discovery of an embezzlement scheme that siphoned away at least $200,000 of taxpayer money, the town has been operating without a permanent manager or treasurer since March. Briggs, the former mayor of neighboring Hampden, was hired Sept. 13.

After a long meeting Monday night, the town has new fraud, purchase order and internal control policies, a new deputy treasurer, and $14,000 in new computer accounting software on order. Other spending, such as several road projects planned for this year, has been halted with the hope that the money appropriated from them will roll into next year’s budget as a surplus.

“There have been some major changes made since I’ve been here,” Briggs said Monday during his first selectmen’s meeting since being hired. “We’ve got to get our financial house in order.”

The fraud policy states the obvious: It’s forbidden to steal from the town in any way. The internal control policy backs up that concept with a detailed system of checks and balances throughout the business of running the town. The policy, which was unanimously enacted by selectmen, calls for daily inspections of all transac-tions by the town manager, double signatures on every check and a tiered purchase order system for any purchase of more than $100.

Some of the actions taken Monday met resistance from a core of residents who asked a stream of questions throughout the meeting. The hardest pushback came during a discussion about Briggs’ recommendation to buy new financial software from a company called TRIO at a cost of $14,100.

“I’m concerned about spending this amount of money,” said Helen Mogan. “I don’t think the town can afford this right now.”

Others, such as Mike Burns and Claude Bolduc, who along with others have spent months combing through the town’s finances, suggested that the town’s current system works fine. Bolduc said several members of his group have offered to help track the town’s finances, but have been refused and called “troublemakers.”

“You haven’t once used the help we’ve offered you,” said Bolduc. “You ought to be embarrassed at the way you’ve treated us.”

Briggs responded by saying that due to the “history” between some of the residents and town officials, he felt the best decision for Newburgh was to opt for an independent entity, such as TRIO. The cost of the software will be split between this and the next fiscal years. Selectmen decided to take the money out of the town’s ad-ministrative budget.

“To say that it’s not broke is not acceptable,” said Briggs. “I stand by that I think this is the right place to go.”

To help keep the books, selectmen voted unanimously in favor of Briggs’ choice of Hampden Town Manager Susan Lessard to be Newburgh’s part-time deputy treasurer. Briggs is also seeking applicants for a part-time deputy clerk.

Briggs said there will be more changes in the coming weeks and months, but that he’s working hard to solicit feedback. To that end, he will hold a “Pizza with the Manager” event Oct. 27, beginning at 6 p.m. at Newburgh Elementary School, which he called a chance for residents to ask questions and offer suggestions.

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