Employees take issue with Pownal town report


POWNAL -- A number of town employees and elected officials are saying the town report contains inaccurate and misleading information.

The town report is a booklet distributed ahead of town meeting day that outlines the state of the town's finances and gives information voters need at the polls. This year, auditors Ray Shields and Betty Baker have included the salaries of a number of town officials.

Town Clerk Karen Burrington said on page four of the report, under the heading "Wages paid by Town and Highway July 1, 2012 thru June 30, 2013" next to her name is the figure $23,973. Under it reads "+ fees."

Burrington said she is paid $10,000 out of the budget and everything she collects after that is fees. The way it is written makes it appear as if she is being paid by taxpayers roughly $14,000 more than she is.

Burrington said figures are also listed for the treasurer and delinquent tax collector positions, both of which are held by Ellen Strohmaier. She said the delinquent tax collector is paid a percentage of delinquent taxes collected, not through the budget, as the report makes it appear.

Burrington said she was also disappointed that an announcement for a rabies clinic to be held March 22, 9 a.m. to noon, at the Pownal Center Fire House was replaced with a poem written by a student at the Pownal Elementary School.

"This is the first time we've seen a report that looks like this," said Select Board Administrative Assistant Linda Sciarappa. She said the copies of the report were only recently received, and it is still being combed through.

Some Pownal employees sent a letter to the editor of the Banner that reads in part, "We feel the Town Auditors did not use due diligence in preparing this report. They succeeded in causing confusion and disruption in the Town Office where a good working relationship is vital. We ask the errors be addressed."

It was signed by Burrington, Strohmaier, and Sciarappa, along with Lister Barbara Schlesigner, Road Foreman Casey Mattison, and Waste Water Treatment Facility Chief Operator Darcy Pruden.

Pruden, Mattison, and Sciarappa are employees while the others are elected officials, as are the auditors.

"We could have made errors. This is Betty and I's first attempt," said Shields, who was elected in March 2012. Baker was elected the following year. "We get the information from the computers. These figures, we don't pick them out of the air."

He said he and Baker will check their work and if they find there are mistakes they will make them known at the floor meeting, which for the town begins at 7:30 p.m. on Monday at the Pownal Elementary School.

In the past, the pay for individual positions was listed in the report, according to Shields, but this has not been done in more recent years.

Baker said it's possible there are errors in that fees were listed with wages, but the information came from the town's computer system. She echoed Shields in that if there are errors, they will be made known.

The relationship between the auditors and town employees and officials has been tense since Shields was elected. In June 2012 the Select Board and Shields discussed concerns that he was upsetting town employees with how he was questioning them about financial records. He and the board continued to debate the role and boundaries of the town auditor with a number of those meetings becoming heated. Shields has claimed the town has lost $43,000 worth in sick days and vacation days that were improperly listed between 2009 and 2012. He, along with Baker, have made complaints to the Vermont State Police, who said they found no evidence of wrongdoing. This was after Shields and Baker went to the Attorney General's Office, which referred the case to police.

The board has argued that Shields and Baker have overstepped their bounds on a number of occasions by taking complaints to other places first. The board has also noted the town's books are audited by a firm on an annual basis.

A ballot article last year asked if voters wished to do away with the auditor position, however it did not pass. At one point, the board voted to suspend its monthly discussions with the auditors, saying they had been unproductive and a waste of time.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.


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