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Letter to the Editor: Operational Audit Poses Questions About Maintenance Spending

Hamilton resident Jay Burnham says there's unanswered questions about how some of the money in the maintenance budget was spent.

To the Editor:

“We don’t know where the money is.”

So stated Hamilton Selectman Jennifer Scuteri during a Operational Audit Committee on Feb. 9. Her answer was in response to a question posed by George LaMontagne about a that said that only about $200,000 out of yearly budget of approximately $600,000 for maintenance was actually spent on maintenance...for years. Mr. LaMontagne simply wanted to know what happened to the remaining $400,000 per year.

This does not seem to be an unreasonable request considering that over a period of years we are talking about more than $1 million.

Other comments from that meeting regarding the question of unaccountable funds from the maintenance budget were:

Molly Martins (Wenham Selectman): "It may be that the information does not exist in a format that's discernible."

Jennifer Scuteri: "I think everybody is just acknowledging that at best we know that $200k was spent. Um, there's no good record keeping. We don't know where the rest of the money went. And going forward, I think there's going to be more transparency."

Roger Kuebel (Wenham Finance Committee) (to Mr. LaMontagne): "Are you concerned that there was fraud?"

George LaMontagne: "I can't answer that Roger.  We don't know."

Molly Martins: "The coulda, shoulda, would haves...and we know they weren't doing it well. That became evident. I think most people knew it, and it became documented in the report. That confirmed what many people believed."

Jennifer Scuteri: "I feel a little bit like it's just an acknowledgment that there was bad accounting and we don't know where the money is...There's no way she (we) can track it...it's not by school. It's not by what was done."

Does anyone else other than George LaMontagne want to know what happened to that missing (yearly) $300,000 to $400,000?

While the new school administration has thus far proven to be open, caring, transparent and competent, it would appear the question of the missing funds is something the audit committee would rather forget about and trust that it will not happen again. After all, they imply, what good will it do to know where the money went? We need to move forward, they suggest, and not dwell on the past.

To that, I say "BULL PUCKY."

Over the past 13 years, because of ten Proposition 2-1/2 overrides for the schools, the taxpayers in Hamilton and Wenham have cumulatively paid more than $40 million (in override costs only) to the HWRSD. As most of you know, the overrides became part of the tax levy so taxpayers are burdened with those costs again and again, each and every year. And now certain officials are hoping you will simply forget about a measly $1 million plus or so and "look forward, not back."

You know, as in...Sweep It Under The Rug.

The taxpayers of Hamilton and Wenham deserve more. They . They deserve an answer to Mr. LaMontagne's question. Only then can Roger Kuebel's question be answered. Only then can they be assured that it will not happen again. Only then will those responsible for what appears to have been excessive and abusive spending, and deviations from accepted practices, be held accountable. That's what the taxpayers expect and deserve.

Perhaps James Thurber said it best:

"Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness."

Respectfully submitted,

Jay Burnham

North Street, Hamilton

Michelle Bailey February 17, 2011 at 06:41 PM
The Operational Audit Report additionally commended the HWRSD for its maintenance quality. 1. "The HWRSD Facilities Office is commended for achieving a high level of satisfaction with maintenance and custodial services indicated in survey responses by central office administrator, school administrators, and teachers." . p. 6-32 2. "The HWRSD Facilities Office is commended for achieving a high level of satisfaction with the promptness of emergency maintenance" p. 6-34 3. "The visual inspection by the Evergreen Solutions team of the school facilities supports these survey results" p. 6-32 4. "HWRSC is commended for hiring a hands-on manager as Director of Facilities, who sees the advantage of being at the work areas of his employees, outside contractors and principals." p. 6-34 And it should be noted that while Mr. LaMontagne pointed out that $600,000 had been budgeted by the HWRSD for maintenance each year, the Evergreen Audit report stated that number should be more along the lines of $790,000...aprox. an additional $200,000. P. 6-40 It seems to me, the money has been spent to on the upkeep of the buildings and perhaps we should be spending more.
Jay Burnham February 17, 2011 at 07:23 PM
I'm afraid Michelle missed the point and must not have seen recent facilities reports. Also, she needs to understand the difference between "custodial" and "maintenance" issues.
Michelle Bailey February 17, 2011 at 07:35 PM
Don't confuse "maintenance" issues with "capital improvement" issues. I did attend the presentation or the recent facilities reports. Those reports indicated that our buildings need Captial Improvements, not maintenance. The School Committee asked the towns for a Capital Override 2 years ago and to stablish a captial improvements/Stabilization Fund last year. Both inititives were rejected. The Captial Improvements from the Facilities Reports estimate the total cost of renovation at $80 million. If the school committee allocates $600,000 for maintance each year...it will only take them 134 years to get the money for the captial improvements.
Robert Foringer February 17, 2011 at 11:22 PM
I agree Jay!!! Can we have some accountability in this town ?
janice merry February 20, 2011 at 01:01 PM
Having grown up in Hamilton and now live in Wenham, I read the article by Jay and couldn't believe the school committee has no idea where the money allocated for maintenance but not completely used just disappeared. I should think the people should be yelling, FIND IT? An out of town fiend involved in a voted position said, unless explained to the satisfaction of the people, the DA's office should be involved. It boils down to intelligence or common sense and hands down common sense wins. Jay and leading members of EIE have done a great job of researching and letting the people know the facts. WHERE"S THE MONEY. Having been fortunate to travel and see beautiful places, these two New ENgland towns are special but these are difficult times even in affulent Hailton and Wenham.

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