Duxbury was dealt a bad hand in 2019. Three floods wrecked culverts and roads, and the expenses piled up.
Now, the town is trying to get things back to normal, but money remains a major problem.
During Thanksgiving week, David Specht, the town treasurer, told the Duxbury Select Board that the budget deficit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2019, was much higher than expected.
The annual independent audit of the town’s books discovered invoices from the April and May flood repairs that Specht hadn’t attributed to the right fiscal year, and a $108,000 deficit mushroomed to $156,000.
Then, during Christmas week, Specht disclosed that the town government’s running a big deficit for the current fiscal year, too.
The select board met every week in December, working on the town budget that voters will consider in March. At the same time, they lamented the financial hole that Duxbury has fallen into, and their feelings toward Specht are obvious.
On Dec. 9, results of the independent town audit still weren’t in, and “we’re going to get hung on that just alone. This has never happened in the history of Duxbury,” said Bob Magee, select board chair.
“We usually have it by the end of July. We had it by the end of July last year,” said Mari Pratt, select board member.
“It’s the treasurer’s fault, OK?” Magee said, “That has to be borne on him, there’s no two ways about it.”
Specht is the first to admit he’s done a bad job, but says he’s not the cause of the deficit. Poor budgeting and unforeseen floods caused the majority of it, he says, and those catastrophic events created a lot of work for him and for the select board’s assistant, Jonathan DeLaBruere.
‘Status — not good’
Specht announced back in May he would not seek re-election after his three-year term expires in 2022.
“This job is way more complicated than I thought it was,” he said in May, after being on the job for less than three months. “I’m giving you all the notice I can.”
The next day, Specht started scheduling for the 2019 audit with Bonnie Batchelder of Batchelder Associates in Barre. On July 30, Specht asked for a list of items to prepare for the audit, and on Aug. 20, Batchelder sent an email asking to arrange an audit date.
Specht wrote he wasn’t ready. Batchelder tried to reschedule, and Specht responded Aug. 23 with apologetic email, stating he wasn’t fit to be the town treasurer and would resign after the audit was completed.
“I will not leave the town in a lurch with no treasurer, but will leave as soon as a replacement is named,” he wrote.
Two days later he sent Batchelder an email with the subject line: “Status — not good.”
“I am not ready and really need help cleaning this up,” Specht wrote. The numbers weren’t adding up and he didn’t know what to do, he wrote. “It’s all there, but not in the right buckets.”
“My assistant treasurer and the auditor did fine work and resolved those issues,” Specht told the select board Dec. 9. “The mistake was made by me.”
Specht failed to file payments for flood repairs under fiscal year 2019 expenses, which led to the $48,000 increase in the 2019 deficit. That issue was resolved by Batchelder and the assistant treasurer, Maureen Harvey, who will be running for Duxbury treasurer in 2020.
Working over budget
Specht says he isn’t a good fit for the position, but he’s made it clear that the town needs a fund to prepare for the storms and subsequent flooding that drove this deficit.
DeLaBruere agrees. DeLaBruere said he’s been working 40 hours a week since July, spending two-thirds of that time working on the multitude of grant projects in Duxbury. Applying for, coordinating, and requesting reimbursement for these programs is time-consuming and complicated, and it’s this kind of work the board brought him on to do.
Trouble is, his job is budgeted for 20 hours a week, and he’s been working 40.
DeLaBruere’s pay came up in a discussion Dec. 9 about pay raises. Pratt said the town shouldn’t give him a cost-of-living raise if he’s bumped up to full-time.
“But I’m already working 40 hours a week,” DeLaBruere said.
“But you’re not supposed to be,” Pratt said.
Specht told the board Dec. 16 and 23 that if DeLaBruere works 24 hours a week, he’s eligible for benefits — another cost the town didn’t anticipate.
He was budgeted for 20 hours a week, and exceeded his $22,000 allotment Dec. 23, with six months left in the fiscal year. The board passed a resolution, stating the board’s assistant shall work no more than 20 hours a week, but his pay for the fiscal year will still be $11,000 over budget.
“There’s not enough explaining in the world for that,” said Kevin Garcia, select board member. “The impression I get is the town is livid.”
DeLaBruere said he was about to submit a reimbursement request to the Federal Emergency Management for $6,000 for his grant work, but it will be at least three months before the town sees that money.
Board members made it clear at a meeting Dec. 16 they have no interest in doing written grant work or keeping minutes — current responsibilities of DeLaBruere — but said Dec. 23 they would be present for on-site meetings with contractors, engineers and government inspectors.
The 2021 town budget proposal has DeLaBruere working full-time — which he said is necessary to continue fulfilling grant applications and reimbursements — but the board was unsure if taxpayers would accept that arrangement, especially since the board disregarded residents’ wishes to keep the job part-time.
“Ten to one, you’re not even going to get a part time (assistant) after Town Meeting Day,” said Jeff Poitras, a Duxbury resident. “That’s all I’ve been hearing from people: ‘Where are we getting the money?’”
Specht said he checked with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns: the select board has the authority to overspend, but “the recourse is, their election, the next election. That is the recourse, just like if you don’t like a treasurer.”