Concerns raised over unspent ‘carryovers’

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Selectmen are taking steps to keep better track of reserve accounts and other types of unspent funds after “red flags” were raised over the amount of money available in the Tax Increment Financing fund.

Town Manager Bob Peabody said March 10 that around $127,000 in undesignated funds should have been transferred over the past several years into the TIF fund, but were not. He said the discrepancy came to light after Anne Krieg, Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development, questioned why there wasn’t more TIF money available for the Town Hall project.

“It did raise red flags for (Krieg),” Peabody said. “The last transfer was two years ago. Apparently those funds haven’t been flowing from the general fund to the TIF fund.”

The question of whether extra TIF revenue is available is especially pressing now that cracks were found in the furnace at the Town Hall, forcing the board to revisit financing just as the renovation project was to go out to bid. The board is meeting today, March 19, with engineers and Cumberland County Community Development Director Aaron Shapiro to come up with new specs that take into account the unexpected furnace replacement costs.

At the March 10 meeting, Selectman Doug Taft expressed frustration that TIF revenues hadn’t been properly tracked. “This is not the first time we’ve had a fund falling through the cracks,” he said. He noted that former Selectman Earl Cash pointed out several years ago that revenues from the Tree Harvest Fund had disappeared.

“It falls on us” when revenues fail to show up in the proper accounts, Taft said. “We should put a program in place to stop these things from happening.”

New policy needed

Peabody said the need for tighter control of accounting practices was one reason why he recommended the board create a Reserve Accounts Policy. He presented a draft of such a policy to the board, saying selectmen would retain “total control” over how all of the town’s reserve accounts are managed.

Peabody recommended that the board create reserve accounts for police cruisers, fire apparatus, public works equipment, capital projects, municipal buildings, recreation department, employees’ accrued benefits, wastewater, Salmon Point Campground and a revaluation.

“There’s a danger in the carryover you do year after year — if you forget (about it), it goes away,” he said.

Some board members questioned whether so many reserve accounts were necessary, but Peabody said the accounts would only be used if needed.

The accrued benefits account, for example, would have been a helpful account to have this year, because of the retirement of two long-time employees. “When they retired, we took an awful hit,” Peabody said.

Each of the reserve accounts would have specific funding limits, he said. Employee reserves could be limited to $10,000 or $20,000, for example, while limits as high as $375,000 could be maintained for a fire apparatus reserve account.

“Just because you have a reserve doesn’t mean you put money into it every year,” Peabody said.

The revaluation reserve account currently has $150,000 available, with another $50,000 recommended as part of this year’s budget. Selectman Paul Hoyt said he would like the town to begin putting the revaluation out to bid as soon as possible, so that the work could start this year.

A final decision on the reserve account policy is scheduled for the board’s meeting on Tuesday, March 24.


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