NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

February 13, 2013

Selectmen probing expenses in lavish water dept. project

ROWLEY — Talk of a misappropriation of funds, violation of procurement laws and insufficient bid documentation have caused the Board of Selectmen to ask for town counsel review of the Water Department’s records relative to the new garage addition that was built at the department’s 401 Central St. location.

A recent review of the department’s invoices, initiated by the town accountant’s concern about several project expenses that were charged to the operating budget instead of being treated as a capital expense, has led to the discovery that the garage addition project was more than $45,000 over budget. Included in this amount is a reconfigured office area at the Central Street location that selectmen are calling “elaborate,” after touring the facility on Dec. 13.

Town residents originally approved $100,000 at the 2006 Town Meeting for the garage addition, which included a reconfiguration of the office area. In order to complete the project, the Water Department, under the direction of water board chairman Scott Martin, sought another $40,000 at the 2012 Town Meeting, which was approved.

“It is quite clear that the water board exceeded authorization from Town Meeting and not only built an addition but added two offices, a full kitchen, lounge area and a three-quarter bath,” said Bob Snow, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, claiming the area was nearly an in-law apartment and was concerning to the board and the town.

Selectmen are now holding back payment on over $16,000 worth of bills for that project, citing, according to the Town Administrator and procurement officer Deborah Eagan, the failure to prove compliance with the town’s bidding laws and procurement policies and possible misappropriation of funds. Eagan explained that the town can’t pay the bills until they determine if the services were procured legally.

Documentation appears to lead to the fact that they weren’t. In 2011, work was done on the addition, including roofing, foundation and siding work, without any documentation of a water board meeting approving the work and without proof of contracts or bids or reference to prevailing wage rate. All this must be evident on government work.

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