VEAZIE, Maine — During yet another tension-filled meeting Monday night, the two remaining members of the Veazie Sewer District board of trustees took steps to address mounting budgetary problems and a rash of resignations that left the utility with a single full-time employee.
Meanwhile, their opponents continued to question the trustees’ actions and motivations.
Among other things, a small group of opponents composed mostly of former employees, their spouses and former trustees complained that their questions weren’t being answered and questioned some of the dollar figures used by the two remaining trustees in recent months.
Cathy Brooks, whose husband, Gary Brooks, abruptly resigned as the district’s superintendent in August, said Tuesday that Chairman Rob Tomilson and Trustee James Parker were not being open with the public.
“What I can tell you is that they’re unwilling to take questions during meetings,” she said. “Does that scream transparency to you?” She also said that some of the recent meeting agendas that the trustees posted included an item for public comments, but not questions from the public.
She alleged that her husband was not permitted to speak to the board during a recent emergency meeting. She said it was beginning to appear to her that the district would be better managed if the town took it over.
Joan Perkins — whose husband, Town Councilor Brian Perkins, is a former trustee — has submitted an estimated 25 freedom of information requests in recent months. Many of those requests are still pending. Trustees on Monday directed their legal counsel to help fulfill them.
During a personnel-related executive session Monday night, Cathy Brooks and Joan Perkins said they were concerned that a forensic audit authorized by trustees could lead the public to believe that former employees were suspected of financial misconduct.
Parker said Tuesday that this is not the case.
“The accountant is doing a forensic audit. Our question was how did reserve accounts get move to the general revenue. There may have been trustee authorizations. We don’t know,” he said.
Gary Brooks, who had worked for the district for 23 years, was first to resign at the end of an Aug. 8 meeting, during which the district’s auditor reported that the utility was running out of money. Next up were plant operator Travis Day and Tammy Olson, office manager. Brooks and Day were full-time employees, while Olson worked 20 hours a week.
The most recent resignation came during an emergency meeting on Nov. 8 during which trustee Gary Brown resigned.
Tomilson and Parker said earlier that the Veazie plant had been operating with the equivalent of 3½ full-time employees for the last several years. Parker said he believes the sewer operation could run with fewer people.
Trustees have deferred making a decision on whether Brooks’ position will be refilled pending the findings of a staffing assessment and salary survey being conducted by the engineering and consulting firm Woodard and Curran, Tomilson said earlier.
The trustees received that report shortly before Monday night’s meeting but tabled discussion because they wanted time to digest it. In the meantime, day-to-day operations are being handled by the remaining employee and a licensed operator provided by Woodard & Curran.
On the financial front, trustees continued talks about how to address a budget shortfall that came to light during an August presentation by the utility’s auditor. The auditor pegged the district’s annual operating costs at about $525,000 and its revenues at roughly $475,000, resulting in a $50,000 gap.
Trustees also learned that most of the money the district had socked away for long-term needs, such as equipment replacement, had been used for operating costs. The problems were exacerbated by a debt service payment due Oct. 1.
In an effort to keep the district solvent, trustees asked the Veazie Town Council to move up its annual assessment payment. The request, however, was rejected in September.
Parker said Tuesday that the trustees also asked their local bank for a bridge loan, but that request was nixed. The district eventually received an extension from the Maine Bond Bank. The payment now is due on Jan. 15 of next year.
Parker said Tuesday that this was a stopgap measure and that the next step for the district could involve some restructuring.