Williamstown Overspent Legal BudgetBy Andy McKeever
09:57AM / Friday, March 09, 2012
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town is already $10,000 overspent in the legal budget and the Finance Committee transferred what is left of the reserve funds on Thursday to finish out the year.
The town budgeted $20,000 for legal services but three stints in court with the owners of the Spruces Mobile Home Park and drafting a lease agreement between the Elementary School and the Youth Center put it over the edge. So far, $30,817 has been spent and Town Manager Peter Fohlin said he has put a halt on any legal work.
"We're going to be so close that we're going to have to watch the expenses like a hawk," Fohlin said.
The biggest hit to the legal budget is the pending lawsuit between Morgan Management, the town and the state after Hurricane Irene. That lawsuit was filed with the town as a party in hopes to sort out responsibility for the park's future. The town has spent $11,707 defending itself and the case is currently continued until April 17, when even more charges could add up.
Morgan Management also fought with the town in the courts on two occasions with the Mobile Home Rent Control Board. A total of $6,475 was spent defending those cases.
An additional $3,000 was spent crafting a lease between the Youth Center and the Elementary School. The Youth Center is set to build a new building on the school's land and requested the town to craft the lease. The officials still need to finalize the lease.
The Finance Committee transferred the remaining $15,000 in the reserve fund to finish out the year. The town still needs legal counsel to look over the warrant for town meeting. If there is anything remaining then, Fohlin said he will start picking at legal issues that are being neglected now.
"We're not even doing the things we are supposed to be doing," Fohlin said of the halt on legal work.
Officials fear that even the $15,000 may not be enough. If that happens, the town will either have to find the money in other budget lines or have a special town meeting article to pay for the legal fees in next year's budget, Fohlin said.
The reserve fund already took hits this year in regard to veteran's services. Veteran's services is expected to be overspent by about $40,000 and the Finance Committee has already transferred enough to cover that shortfall. That line was budgeted at about $35,000 but expenses are expected to be about $74,000.
Fohlin said in March that veterans services were slightly less than expected but that doesn't mean that the town is in the clear. There is still a chance that line could be overspent and would also require an additional appropriation in next year's budget.
"We just have to cross our fingers and whistle while we pass the graveyard," Fohlin said.