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3/12/2014 2:00:00 PM
Edgecomb Addresses Tax Commitment Error

By Kathy Onorato

An error in Edgecomb's tax commitment calculations over the last two years has resulted in uncollected tax dollars totaling more than $450,000.

Fortunately for Edgecomb residents, most of that amount will likely be covered by overlay and surplus. However there will be little, if any, surplus funds available to help reduce next year's budget.

Edgecomb officials discuss the fiscal year 2013 audit. From left, Town Clerk Claudia Coffin, auditor Fred Brewer and bookkeeper Fran Mague. (Kathy Onorato photo)
Edgecomb officials discuss the fiscal year 2013 audit. From left, Town Clerk Claudia Coffin, auditor Fred Brewer and bookkeeper Fran Mague. (Kathy Onorato photo)
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The town's auditor Fred Brewer shared the news with Edgecomb Board of Selectmen March 10 after discovering the error while working on the FY13 audit. He said the spending was approved by the voters, but the money was never raised from taxes.

For FY13 the uncommitted tax amount was about $223,874, Brewer said. The town was able to cover $129,290 of that with overlay. Brewer projects the shortfall from taxes for FY14 will be $229,755, of which $71,896 will be covered by overlay.

The town of Edgecomb has been building up its surplus account over the last several years and therefore the selectmen anticipate the town has enough money to cover the remaining $252,443.

Edgecomb Town attorney William Dale made it clear no money is missing and the town did not spend money it wasn't authorized to spend.

"People might have been more frugal about spending had they known about the situation," he said.

The blame for the mistake is being placed on miscalculations by Denis Berube, of John E. O'Donnell & Associates Inc., who has been doing the town's assessing for several years. Two years ago the town asked the firm to also prepare the tax commitment data, which had been previously prepared by the selectmen.

Berube faced the Edgecomb selectmen March 10. "I am very disappointed," he said. "I don't like to make mistakes; disappointed I didn't pick up on it."

Dale recommended the town continue to use the services of John E. O'Donnell. Dale said it was unfortunate the mistake was made, but it didn't make sense for the town to change firms. "O'Donnell has a very good reputation," Dale said.

Selectman Stuart Smith suggested Berube continue to prepare the tax commitment data, but Brewer will review the numbers for accuracy. Smith asked Berube if John E. O'Donnell & Associates would consider reducing its current charge of $17,000 per year by $250, the cost of having the auditor check the numbers.

Although Berube said he was not authorized to make that decision, he did say, "I don't think it will be much of an issue."

Selectman Jessica Chubbuck said the selectmen have been very careful over the past several years to build up a surplus account and now are faced with the need of developing a plan for replenishing the account after this error has been corrected.

Smith estimated at the end of the current fiscal year, the town would have an approximate $138,000 cash flow, which falls short of what will be needed to pay the bills, he said.

Options were discussed to increase the cash flow including the possibility of a tax anticipation note, which Edgecomb has never done.

"People in Edgecomb might have to bite the bullet and take a TAN," Dale said.

On March 17 at 6 p.m. Edgecomb selectmen will meet the budget committee to discuss the upcoming budget.

Other business

Fire Chief Roy Potter submitted a letter to selectmen asking the board to consider creating a full-time position for a combined fire chief/code enforcement officer. Potter said the two positions often cross paths.

Benefits to Edgecomb residents would include having a person available to address issues promptly and help the lack of daytime coverage for medical and fire calls, he said.

Potter told selectmen the demands of his job as a part-time chief and holding a full-time position is getting more difficult.

"I will continue the best I can, but I am starting to get burned out," Potter told the board.

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