Trenton transfers funds committed in 1989 to scholarship committee

Posted April 14, 2011, at 12:27 p.m.
Last modified April 14, 2011, at 3:42 p.m.

TRENTON, Maine —- Twenty-two years later, money that local voters had wanted to put toward local scholarships finally seems to be headed to its intended destination, according to local officials.

With a 5-0 vote, the town’s board of selectmen decided April 5 to transfer more than $19,000 in leftover bicentennial celebration money to the town’s scholarship committee for use as scholarship funds.

The transfer had been authorized in 1989 by local voters but subsequently never was completed.

The town had $11,000 leftover from its bicentennial celebration that year, and over time it accrued enough interest to have a balance of nearly $20,000 as it remained in the bicentennial account.

Though the account was virtually forgotten by local residents for two decades, it has received a lot of attention over the past several months. After former Town Clerk Janet Muise retired last fall, she brought it up with selectmen to find out what should be done with it. Muise, the last surviving member of the bicentennial committee, was the only person authorized by the bank that held the account to access the funds.

Controversy erupted over the rediscovery of the funds. Two of Trenton’s five selectman, Julee Swanson and Susan Starr, publicly criticized the former town clerk for how she managed the town’s finances. Many residents came to Muise’s defense, however, and accused her critics of maligning Muise and of making it look like the former town clerk had purposefully mishandled the town’s money.

Around the time of the controversy, the town recently had completed an audit of its financial records through June 2010 and then decided to complete another, which town officials said municipalities frequently do to ensure continuity from a retiring bookkeeper to his or her successor. James Wadman, the town’s auditor, has said that though the town’s finances could have been kept in better order, he found no evidence that anyone had tried to hide or embezzle the town’s money.

Michael Hodgkins, chairman of the local board of selectmen, said Wednesday that several weeks ago Camden National Bank replaced Muise’s name on the list of people allowed to access the bicentennial fund with that of Rachel Hyland, Trenton’s new town clerk. With the board’s April 5 vote, Hyland is expected to issue a check for the funds to the Trenton Scholarship Fund committee.

“Why it never got transferred [until now], I don’t know,” Hodgkins said, who added that the controversy over Muise’s handling of the account was “unfortunate.”

Now that the money is being used the way voters had intended 22 years ago, Hodgkins said, it finally can help local students who need help paying college expenses.

“Every Trenton student who applies will get something,” he said.

Faye Geel, treasurer of the local scholarship committee, said Wednesday that the committee disburses scholarship funds annually every May. How much money each student gets depends on how many apply, she said. Last year, the committee received 16 applications.

The committee already has about $40,000 in scholarship funds that it manages, in addition to the nearly $20,000 in former bicentennial funds that it expects to receive from the town in the coming days, Geel said. She said the additional money will be a great help to local prospective college students, who this year have to have their local scholarship applications in by May 1.

“It’s absolutely wonderful,” Geel said of the added scholarship funds.

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