April 06, 2020

Debate continues on Utilities District cash

FORT KENT — A month ago, there was a large gap between two amounts of cash on hand that users of the Fort Kent Utilities District were told the district had. A trustee of the district had claimed the cash on hand was nearly five times an estimate made by the general manager of the utility.

The public meeting in December was a bruising evening because trustees couldn’t answer the question, “How much money does the district have?”

A year-end report of the district, now available, shows there is a lot of money in several district accounts. Whether the several accounts can be described as “cash on hand” could and will continue to be debated.

Trustees have been told that in four accounts there was a total of $495,272, as of Oct. 31, 1997. The amount did not include a $250,000 check received since then from Rural Economic and Community Development (formerly FHA).

The discussion is expected to continue at the trustees’ next meeting in February. The debate will look at what is actually cash on hand, or “usable cash,” in contrast to dedicated money, which cannot be used for anything else than what the funds were created for.

At a public hearing in December, Gilles Daigle, general manager of the district which oversees the municipal water system and the waste-water treatment system, said the district had “about $150,000.”

Trustee Robert Berube disagreed, claiming the district had nearly $764,000 in cash “laying around.”

In Daigle’s report this month to trustees on finances and budgeting, he listed, as of Oct. 31, 1997 — the end of the district’s fiscal year — cash on hand as $158,917. The district also had a money market account with $103,282, an escrow account for industrial repayment of a loan with $129,486, and an escrow account for the loan from RECD with $103,588.

While all of the accounts total $495,272, Daigle said Tuesday that there is $203,588 which cannot be used by the district. “It is held in dedicated accounts and cannot be used for anything else than what they were created for,” he said.

Daigle said the remainder, usable cash, was $291,683.

He said the $250,000 reimbursement from RECD already has $100,000 earmarked to finish the $8.5 million sewer project. Daigle said $150,000 will be left for the district.

Daigle told trustees that money will be needed at the end of the present year to cover a budget shortfall. He has estimated the district will collect $395,956 in 1997-98, while operating expenses will be $577,150, leaving a shortfall of $181,194.

It hasn’t been an easy year for the trustees. They just completed an $8.5 million waste-water treatment project to replace a deteriorated system built in 1969.

The construction project, the largest ever in Fort Kent, acquired $5.8 million in grants from the Department of Environmental Protection, RECD, and the Community Development Block Grant program.

The utility district borrowed $2.3 million from RECD for the project and another $345,000 from banks for upgrades to allow industrial use of the new lagoon system. One escrow account is to cover this cost in case the industrial user defaults.

Last February, before construction was complete, the trustees voted to increase rates for the 1,271 users. The rates climbed from an average of $226 a year to $305.

In December, the utility had extra money in the bank and $250,000 coming back from RECD. Trustees voted to rebate to 1,119 users the increase since February, about $82 each, and to forgo any increases until 1999.

On Oct. 1, the utility district started operating its new upgraded sewer plant.

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