April 04, 2020

Budget Committee recommends withholding recreation director’s salary

MACHIAS — The Machias Budget Committee has recommended that the town withhold one month’s salary from Recreation Department Director Bruce Frost, to settle more than $1,300 in debts officials say Frost created by poor program planning and management.

The recommendation, signed by Budget Committee members Jim Raymond, Wayne Mallar and Richard Larson, was presented to selectmen Thursday amid deepening concern by officials over Frost’s ability to manage his department’s finances. As Selectman Susan Dorr stressed, “His job is on the line.”

Selectmen were told that $1,378 was needed “to clear the recreation account.” Frost earns an annual salary of $16,044, or about $1,337 each month.

Larson explained Sunday that the recreation account, because it is an accommodations account, differs from other town accounts. He called it a “flow-through account” in which the money to operate the department’s programs comes directly from user fees.

“That money is not raised and appropriated (by voters),” explained Larson, but comes from those who participate in the programs.

Residents voted in June to raise and appropriate from taxes $18,694 toward Frost’s salary and support of the department. Another $7,600 was appropriated from an undesignated fund balance bringing the total approved by voters to $26,294.

Besides Frost’s salary, $7,950 went for fringe benefits; $1,050 for supplies and materials; $250 for training; $800 for the department’s share of utilities at the town office; and $200 for liability insurance.

Under the budget committee’s proposal, the town would withhold a month’s salary from Frost until the June 30 end of the fiscal year. If no money is owed by the department, Frost, according to Larson, would receive his pay.

If unpaid bills still remain, the unpaid salary would, as unspent funds, be placed into the town’s surplus account. Residents at the next annual meeting, then would be asked to transfer from surplus the amount needed to pay the department’s outstanding debts.

Selectmen were shocked to learn in December that, six months into the new fiscal year, the recreation department was at least $4,000 in debt because of poor planning and management by Frost.

Some of that stems from special-order T-shirts for a basketball camp that fell through when a featured athlete failed to show. Frost told the board in December that a California firm has promised to reimburse the town $1,800 in return for the shirts.

Afraid that Frost might return the shirts first, selectmen made it clear Thursday that if no check arrives from California, no shirts are to be shipped to California.

Another $2,500 was paid to a Bangor firm for a separate shirt order after selectmen voted Dec. 12 to take the money from the town’s accommodations account as a “face-saving move” to preserve the town’s credit rating. The $1,800, once it is received from California, will be deposited in the accommodations account to offset what selectmen called an internal loan.

Other bills totaling more than $1,300, still remain.

Typical of the problems encountered by Frost was a summer soccer camp in which a coordinator from Bridgeport, Conn., was hired for a week. Selectmen were told Thursday that Frost “guaranteed” that 30 youths, paying $30 each, would participate. Only 10 attended, leaving the program about $450 short.

Frost also was criticized for not collecting fees for open basketball play under way at MMHS. Selectman Susan Dorr said that “these kids are playing twice a week and they’re not paying.”

Frost “continues to underestimate the costs of his programs,” board chairman Edward Pellon said. “He’s not taking into account such things as janitorial fees.” Board member Sandra Altmannsberger replied that Frost “created this monster.”

Frost is scheduled to meet with selectmen Jan. 24 in a final attempt to resolve the shortfall. “The public has turned this into a personalities issue instead of a budgeting matter. I think you’ve got to do something,” Larson reminded the board.

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