Even in the midst of a global pandemic, the Duxbury Select Board is working trying to solve the town government’s financial woes.
The board is trying to curb this year’s spending with only three months left in the budget year, cutting into a deficit of several hundred thousand dollars. It’s also trying to get a handle on the town’s construction projects.
On March 9, as the board met for the first time since town elections, new board member Dick Charland — who’d been on the board during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 — led an effort to get all documents associated with those projects in one place and have the select board assistant, Jonathan DeLaBruere — who was primarily managing those projects — walk the board through each one so it could prioritize what work was needed most.
And, on Monday of this week, Charland presented a list of cost-cutting possibilities that could curb the looming deficit. He said the savings could amount to $150,000.
It will be a slow process, especially considering most town governments are in slowdown mode during the state of emergency Gov. Phil Scott declared because of the coronavirus crisis.
“Right now everyone’s aware of the situation we’re in,” said board chair Kevin Garcia. “It’s a matter of what we can absorb at one time.”
Balancing the budget
Charland met Monday with the Duxbury road crew to go over the cuts he’d be proposing. He said they were concerned about rumors they’d been hearing about layoffs in other communities.
“Right now, that’s not something we’re considering,” Charland said, but they did discuss some areas they could trim. Some savings are available in office costs and inflated benefits costs that won’t come into play this budget year, but the bulk of the savings involve road work — overtime, equipment parts and materials such as stone, gravel and sand.
“Basically, these are areas where we can hold any nonessential spending,” he said. “We wanted their input and they understand exactly where we stand.”
The caveat? This plan depends on a mild spring.
“I advised them to religiously check culverts, because spring is not our friend,” he said; clogged culverts produce water backups, which produce washouts.
The crew is on board with the plan, and Garcia mentioned that Kyle Guyette, garage foreman, is already using his time wisely. “He took a day off over the week to do some grading when the weather was right,” Garcia said.
And, “just so the town knows, we’ve basically put the brakes on all additional spending,” Garcia said.
At a meeting two weeks ago, Charland wanted to know where all the documents were that accompanied Duxbury’s $3.5 million in current and prospective grants. DeLaBruere answered with reams of paper.
On March 9, the board asked DeLaBruere to produce all those documents it had been asking him for, and they’re now in the town office in paper and electronic form.
While it will take time for board members to wrap their heads around the hundreds of documents that accompany all the infrastructure projects that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state government are helping pay for, they’re now in a position to rein in town spending, prioritizing the projects that are most important and putting on hold those that can wait.
For Charland, a big sticking point was missing change-orders from repairs after a May 2019 storm. The state approved reimbursement for 80 percent of just over $200,000 of work. By the end of the project, the total cost was $300,000, and the state refused to pay for more than $189,000 of it, leaving the town on the hook for an unexpected $80,000.
He wanted to know who approved the work that expanded the project.
Even with all the documents, board members and the assistant present, “the thing that we couldn’t get a hard answer on was the change-orders,” Charland said. “We’re going to set some policy and procedure so that doesn’t happen again.”
He still wants answers, but is satisfied with where things are headed so far.
“We don’t have any better idea as to where we stand right now, but as we put it together we’ll work from there,” he said.
That’s the plan, taking it one step at a time in the right direction.
Garcia said the board will take a more active role in managing the large workload Duxbury faces to maintain and modernize its roads, bridges, culverts and other infrastructure.
“What I’m hoping we’re going to do is establish a grant schedule, something more defined,” he said. “Right now, we’re just trying to figure out where we can save money moving forward. Anywhere we can find to save a penny, we’re hoping we can.”