LUDLOW, Maine — Six months after the town was thrown into upheaval when the state stepped in and seized its financial records, residents intent on implementing stricter financial controls gathered at the town office on Tuesday evening for a long delayed town meeting.
More than 40 people crammed into the tiny town office for the two-hour-long meeting. Most of the 26 articles on the warrant passed as written, but questions were raised about most articles that dealt with taxpayers’ dollars.
In February, State Auditor Neria Douglass confirmed that her office had begun auditing the town’s finances after receiving a complaint and verifying that the state had not received several years’ worth of municipal audits. The state later determined that, despite numerous requests to town officials over the years, they did not receive an audit report from the town from 2002 to 2009. Ludlow financial records were subpoenaed last October for fiscal years 2007, 2008 and 2009.
State law mandates that a town conduct an audit each year. The penalty for failure to do an audit is $100. Douglass said she does not plan to penalize the town for failing to do seven years of audits.
Mary Beth Foley, Ludlow’s town manager for the past 14 years, was suspended without pay in early February after she failed to produce financial records and a copy of the town’s audit that the Board of Selectmen requested from her. Foley resigned last month.
The state found a number of discrepancies in the town’s records, all of which were outlined for residents in a letter from Douglass handed out at Tuesday’s meeting.
Virginia McCain and Greg Dow, members of the Board of Selectmen, attended the meeting. The third member, Ted Ivey, didn’t attend and didn’t sign the warrant.
Attendees did not discuss the situation in detail during the meeting, but it was obvious, as McCain said, that “lessons were learned,” and residents wanted to make some changes to financial protocols.
During the meeting, residents approved an article to make taxes due on Oct. 15 permanent. In the past, according to residents, tax bills were due at different times each year. Voters also decided to approve a measure to assure that money is set aside in the town’s coffers each year for an audit. The town had to add an additional $8,000 to its general government expenses line item this year over last year to pay for an extensive audit of the town’s finances by a private auditor and to pay legal fees.
While townspeople approved contracts for fire and ambulance services, they requested that they be made aware of how many fire and ambulance calls are responded to so they can know what they are paying for.
In February, selectmen said there would be an article on the town meeting warrant asking residents if they wanted to increase the number of members on the board from three to five. The move was pegged as an attempt to provide for more checks and balances.
On Tuesday evening, however, residents were reluctant to approve such a change. Some felt that the town was too small to have such a large board, and others felt that it would be too hard to find five people who were interested in serving on the board. Other residents noted that in the past, months would pass before the board could actually have a meeting because there would not be enough selectmen to show up to establish a quorum.
Selectmen meet once a month and are paid $20 a meeting.
The residents eventually voted overwhelmingly not to increase the number of board members.
The board began searching for a new manager immediately after Foley resigned. They have received seven or eight applications, according to Dow, mostly from local applicants. They are hoping to begin conducting interviews within two weeks and would like to have a new manager selected by the end of the month.
The town office has been closed ever since Foley was suspended and remains closed until a new manager takes over.