CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Officials are assuring residents that there's no cause for concern about the town's financial state and that the state's Department of Revenue will not be taking over its finances.
Assertions by the School Committee last week about problems in the treasurer's office had led to a flurry of comments on Facebook and calls to the town offices.
"We just wanted to state the facts of what's going on," said Town Treasurer Amy Cariddi. "We're not trying to hide anything. Just, we're working hard and a lot of those issues that were brought up in that last article have already been resolved."
Cariddi and Select Board Chair Danielle Luchi on Wednesday said they were surprised by the issues brought up at the School Committee in an iBerkshires article last week. Both acknowledged there had been serious problems and backlogs in the treasurer's office but said the town itself is not in any fiscal quandary.
"We just want to assure [town residents] that day-to-day operations here are being done," said Luchi. "We have pretty much a full staff, minus the town administrator who is on extended sick leave."
Luchi said she had spoken and met with the Northern Berkshire School Union several times in the weeks prior to the meeting to keep them updated on the town's progress in straightening out the treasurer's office. She and Cariddi said they were disheartened by the committee's comments as many of the problems raised had been resolved and that no one had missed a paycheck.
"There's no reason to believe that your next paycheck's not coming," Luchi said. "We have money in the bank. We're not rich, but we're also not poor. We're not in debt. We have $319,000 in stabilization."
The clerical problems had been discussed openly at a Select Board meeting last month, when Hilltown Municipal Accounting Services' Terry Green had detailed discrepancies in payroll deductions, bills that were not paid, and day-to-day operations that had fallen behind. The company had been brought in to help with the problems and Green continues to be in the office several days a week to aid in reconciling the books for fiscal 2021.
"I will say this has not been any easy transition into this position," said Cariddi. "The Hilltown Municipal Accounting firm and I are working diligently to resolve several issues that have been discovered. We are currently in the process of reconciling fiscal year '21. I would also like to add that the town is no way in any financial trouble."
The town had seen its town accountant, treasurer/tax collector, town clerk, and administrative assistant depart for various reasons over the past year. At the beginning of August, the Select Board had switched up the treasurer and administrative positions, putting Cariddi in the treasurer's office.
The town administrator has reportedly not been in the office since the Aug. 25 Select Board meeting; officials will only say she is on medical leave. The former chair of the Select Board resigned a week later.
Luchi said she's not leaving, is not a quitter and plans to see it through: "I had a lot come at me in one week."
Luchi and Cariddi answered the issues raised by the Northern Berkshire Supervisory Union last week, which included canceled life insurance policies, messed up payroll deductions, and an overdrawn Amazon account.
Cariddi said the life insurance issue had been resolved in April and, about two pay periods ago, those who had overpaid in deductions earlier in the year were given a credit in their paychecks. The Amazon account had been more complicated because it is used by all department heads, not just the school, and is paid by check on a biweekly warrant.
"It was discovered mid-August when I arrived as the new treasurer/tax collector, that the town's Amazon accounts had reached the town's spending limit of $10,000, which is set to pay by invoice only," Cariddi said. "It was then discovered that 90 percent of these past due Amazon invoices were associated with the Northern Berkshire School Union."
The town then allowed the school to use the town credit card, which is used in emergency situations. "Due to exceeding the credit card limit, they were not able to process any further orders until it was paid," Cariddi said.
Luchi said some of the Amazon invoices for NBSU dated back more than five months. Once the school union was apprised of that and told to submit the receipts as a warrant, the town was able to pay the bills, she said.
In the meantime, Luchi said there are number of good things happening: the town is getting a grant of $192,910 from the state's Green Communities Program to fund a heat pump and weatherization in town buildings and for LED lighting at the school. It's also working with National Grid to replace conventional street lights with the more efficient LEDs at no cost to the town (and with a $10,000 reimbursement), is receiving a $15,000 grant for Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness, and is working with the volunteer fire department on a fire safety grant of $8,500.
The town's also preparing to get all its bylaws online and anticipates meeting with New England Regional Dispensary about adding a retail shop to its proposed cannabis cultivation facility.
Luchi said all of those in Town Hall have been working hard to set things right, crediting Administrative Assistant Darcy Feder, Town Clerk Marilyn Gomeau and information technology consultant Jason Morin for stepping up. She's been spending four hours a day helping in the office herself and Green's offered to come in on weekends to push things forward. They may not quite meet the state's Sept. 30 deadline for filing fiscal 2021 but shouldn't be too far past it, she said.
Both Luchi and Cariddi said there's been a lot of stress in keeping up with the day-to-day operations and catching up with the work needed to report to the state, which is aware of the problems.
"I'm going see to it that we come out of this. It's just a speed bump in the road, right, we're going to meet deadlines, we reached out to DOR, they know," Luchi said. "We are not by any means on the radar for receivership."
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