VEAZIE, Maine — Three employees who resigned from the Veazie Sewer District last summer and fall were told they will have to wait to be reimbursed thousands of dollars for unused sick time because of the district’s budget crunch.
“From my position, I think we should pay you but we don’t have any money,” Trustee James Parker told the employees, who turned up at a sewer district trustees’ meeting Monday night to ask why they had yet to be paid the benefits owed them.
“That’s the problem. Right now we don’t have enough money in line to even make the next bond payment, so we’ve got to get our cash flow in order and our rate structure increased,” said Parker, who was elected to the board of trustees last June.
“I know there was a vote to pay you but we didn’t know we didn’t have any money left,” he said.
Chairman Rob Tomilson agreed and made similar statements. Trustee Norman “Buddy” Webb, who attended his first meeting Monday, reserved comment.
At issue is tens of thousands of dollars worth of unused sick time benefits accumulated by the utility’s former superintendent, plant operator and office manager.
Until the current board of trustees — all of whom are relatively new at the job — put an end to the practice last fall, sewer district employees were allowed to receive pay for sick time benefits they did not use.
As of May 1 of last year, the three had accumulated the equivalent of an estimated $36,500, according to the district’s auditor, Nick Henry of Horton, McFarland & Veysey. He said the sick time continued to accrue from that date until each employee’s resignation became effective last summer and fall.
Former plant Superintendent Gary Brooks, who had worked for the district for 23 years, resigned at the end of an August board meeting during which the district’s auditor reported that the utility was running out of money.
During that meeting, the auditor pegged annual operating costs at about $525,000 and revenues at roughly $475,000, resulting in a $50,000 gap. Trustees also learned that most of the money that had been set aside for long-term needs, such as equipment replacement, had been used for operating costs.
Plant operator Travis Day and office manager Tammy Olson later tendered their resignations. Brooks and Day were full-time employees, while Olson worked 20 hours a week.
The wave of resignations left the utility with a single full-time employee. Day to day operations currently are being managed through a $14,000 a month contract with consultant Woodard & Curran.
Brooks spoke on behalf of the other former employees during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting.
Parker asked Brooks if he had taken the issue up with the utility’s lawyer. Brooks said he did so and was advised to go before the board of trustees.
After Parker said the district could not afford to pay the employees what they are owed at this time, Brooks pointed out that the trustees are paying an attorney to attend each board meeting and a substantial fee for a consultant.
Parker offered Brooks a copy of the most recent treasurer’s report.
In an effort to get the district back to fiscal health, trustees are working toward a rate increase that would be the first it has seen since 2001, according to documents from the sewer district’s website.
A rate increase was proposed in the spring of 2011, but the plan was scrapped after several residents raised objections and blamed part of the increase on the salaries paid to district staff.