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By Rachel Goff
At their meeting on Monday, June 9, the Duxbury Select Board accepted a petition from residents who want to rescind an article authorizing the town to borrow $70,000 a year for five years to pay off debt.
The article was approved at a special Town Meeting last month, but petitioners have since challenged its necessity, calling into question the town's debt calculations. Their petition received the requisite number of signatures, and now the select board has 60 days to call another special Town Meeting.
Last month the select board told voters that Duxbury has $338,000 in debt, which consists of a $228,000 line of credit and a $110,000 budget deficit. Former town auditor Bill Yacavoni asserts that the $228,000 line of credit is included in the 2013 budget deficit leaving the town only $110,000 in debt—or even less because the town received a refund of $40,000 from Washington West Supervisory Union last month.
The 2013 year-end audit by Bonnie Batchelder, Duxbury's new town auditor, shows a balance sheet that includes the $228,000 debt in its liabilities and shows the town ending the year at a deficit of $110,000.
At this week's meeting, the select board sought to clarify residents' confusion over the contradictory debt calculations and discussed the town's plan for moving forward. The $228,000 line of credit becomes due at the end of the month, and "is there any way that you can see the town being able to pay [it]?" select board chair Dick Charland asked current town auditor Bonnie Batchelder on Monday.
"No," Batchelder responded. Simply put, "you don't have the money and you need to make a decision to remedy it," she said.
Per state statute, Batchelder was hired to audit the books when former town treasurer Ken Scott resigned late last year. Her audit presented Duxbury's end-of-year financial situation, which Charland said the town would not be in without Tropical Storm Irene. Following flooding in 2011, Duxbury took out a line of credit with Merchant's Bank to pay for repairs until it was reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA).
In the end, Duxbury received $1.7 million from FEMA—even more than it had expected—but as the reimbursement checks came in they were used to pay for the town's operating expenses rather than repaying the line of credit, which currently stands at $228,000.
Simply put, "we, as a board, did not appropriate the money properly," select board member Mo LaVanway said last Monday. In addition to failing to use FEMA funds for repaying the line of credit, the board also overspent its budget by $110,000 in 2013, which includes a $40,000 deficit carried over from 2012.
Tropical Storm Irene "brought the town's problem to the forefront," Batchelder said, agreeing with Charland, but Duxbury's misappropriation of funds over the past two years "hasn't been just an isolated transaction," she said. "This has been going back historically."
When LaVanway asked about the option of the town taking out a tax-anticipated loan to repay the line of credit, Batchelder responded that it could work, "but that's not the purpose of a tax-anticipated loan," she said. "You just can't keep floating the money or you're going to continually end up in this cycle," she said.
Right now, the town is staying afloat "by using the money in its Capital Reserve Account," Batchelder explained. According to town treasurer Kym Andrews' cash flow analysis, by the end of May Duxbury will be $80,000 in the hole and by the end of June it will be $135,000 in the hole. But Batchelder said that she is here to help.
"[This] has been a really unfortunate process," Batchelder said. "If there's any cloudiness, I'm here to answer your questions and help you get through this," she told both the select board and the town's residents.
At the second special Town Meeting, petitioners hope to give everyone a chance to hear from Yacavoni, who audited Duxbury's books for 16 years, as well as Batchelder before making a decision to borrow $338,000 and raise the tax rate for five years to pay it back.