Trying to understand the actions of the Selectmen and the Town Manager this past year has been perplexing to say the least. This spring Mr. Welch told us that the town’s expenditures for snow removal in early 2015 would create a deficit situation. In June, the State of New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration stopped the Town Manager and Selectmen’s attempted end run around the Budget Committee involving the withdrawal of $350,000 from the Unassigned Fund Balance, the Town’s rainy day fund. Budget Committee informational requests, including a meeting with the Assessor, copies of warrant articles and interaction with the DPW Director, were regularly stonewalled by the Town Manager with the support of the Selectmen. The Town Manager’s 2016 Operating Budget involved the shifting of many expense items, typically included in the Operating budget, into warrant articles funded by over a half-million dollar withdrawal from the Unassigned Fund balance.
In September, the Finance Director forecast a minuscule 2015 budget surplus of $71,000, well under 1% of the total budget. By November, she was predicting a budget surplus of $790,000, over a ten-fold increase. At the December 21st meeting the Town Manager requested and received the approval from the Selectmen to spend $444,500 of the projected $790,000 surplus to immediately purchase the items contained in nine of the proposed 2016 warrant articles that would have tapped the Unassigned Fund balance. He also indicated that despite spending $444,500 at year-end, $500,000 would still be added to the Unassigned Fund balance from unspent funds. Mr. Welch had been quoted as saying that the town had flat tires, parked vehicles and deferred repairs. We hope that these were the first priorities to be addressed.
We’re having a very hard time coming to grips with the actual facts. How can the town go from a financial emergency to almost a million dollars in 2015 surplus in only two months? Is everything essential? Frankly this scares us.
We recognize that while some aspects of these goings on are legal, others are not, in particular, the failure to provide the information requested by the Budget Committee. Add to that the recent refusal by the Selectmen, led by Chairman Griffin, to respond to three questions on the Annual Financial Audit submitted by a member of the public through Selectperson Woolsey. Selectmen Bean’s rational for not responding to the questions was essentially “what if the other 15,000 residents asked questions.” Hearing a Selectmen say we cannot have the public questioning the audit report is another episode in the madness of this Board of Selectmen. It will be interesting to see if the topic is discussed again.
The Selectmen have a long established policy, codified in Chapter 611 of the Hampton ordinances, regarding Undesignated Fund Balances and minimum amounts to be retained. While the board has the authority to change this policy, of late they have been ignoring them. Chairman Griffin and the Town Manager shouted down Selectperson Woolsey several weeks ago just for bringing up Chapter 611. Undesignated Fund Balances are the property of the Taxpayers. The State of New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration and the GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) have guidelines for surplus retention levels. The Town has an ordinance in Chapter 611, based on those recommendations, all of which are being conveniently ignored. Add to that, violations of the Purchasing Policy, Personnel Policy and sleight of hand wage increases all sends a significant message creating a lack of confidence in the administration of the Town by the Town Manager and a rubber stamp Board of Selectmen.
The public would benefit if the Board of Selectmen would become a little more introspective and cease the attacks on other boards and individuals who disagree with them.