Veazie Sewer District official on finances: ‘I wouldn’t say we’re flush’

Posted Jan. 03, 2014, at 3:10 p.m.

VEAZIE, Maine — A little over a year after the Veazie Sewer District Trustees learned the utility was running out of money, it now appears it is regaining some financial stability.

“I wouldn’t say we’re flush, but it looks like we’re headed in the right direction,” Trustee James Parker, who serves as the board’s treasurer, said in a recent interview about the district’s latest audit report, which was released last month. The audit covered May 2012 to May of 2013.

Among the highlights cited in the audit were some significant variations between budgeted amounts and actual operation expenses in 2013, specifically:

— Salaries were under budget by $64,602.

— Benefits were under budget by $47,128.

— Maintenance and repair were under budget by $14,713.

— Legals costs were over budget by $66,114.

— Engineering costs were over budget by $83,483.

“We’re sort of caught in the transition with this one but when it comes to the next audit, the numbers will really start to shape up, I think,” Parker said.

Parker credits some of the changes in the way the district does business for the turnaround. Among those changes were a reduction in staffing, tighter financial control and a rate increase that is allowing the district to start replenishing its depleted reserves for debt payments and capital expenditures. With the exception of the reserve account for the annual payment to the Maine Bond Bank, withdrawals from reserves now require a vote among trustees.

In addition, the trustees agreed to put $8,000 toward the $37,000 in sick time benefits owed to former employees, Parker said. 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. The former management did not fund that liability in the operating budget, Parker said.

Former plant Superintendent Gary Brooks, who had worked for the district for 23 years, resigned at the end of an August 2012 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, including salaries.

Plant operator Travis Day and office manager Tammy Perry later tendered their resignations. Brooks and Day were full-time employees, while Perry worked 20 hours a week.

The wave of resignations left the utility with a single full-time employee. Day to day operations were turned over to consultant Woodard & Curran, which managed the plant through a $14,000 a month contract.

That contract is no longer in effect, Parker said. Dana McLaughlin, the only employee who didn’t quit in 2012, recently was named district superintendent. Rebecca Chase, initially hired as a part-time bookkeeper, has agreed to obtain an operator license and will be assisting the superintendent and filling in when he is off, he said.

“We’ve gone from three and a half full-time people to basically two full-time people,” Parker said, adding that line work and repairs will be handled by a seasonal or part-time worker.

Another loose end the trustees have tied up is the more than a dozen liens the district placed on users whose bills weren’t being paid. Those liens, Parker said, should have been discharged once the users paid the bills and related fees but were not.

“Now the [property] titles have been cleared up and recorded,” he said.

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