BUCKFIELD — Saying his firm had to correct more than $3 million in errors in the town’s 2020 financial statement, auditor Ron Beaulieu defended the bills sent to the town covering auditing and accounting services during Tuesday night’s meeting of selectmen.
The town has two invoices received in December 2021 totaling $12,242.50, which Beaulieu said are more than 70 days past due. The town had previously paid three invoices totaling $7,942.50.
The discussion with the auditor lasted more than an hour.
Selectman Janet Iveson said former interim Town Manager Bradley Plante thought the bills were paid in full, which is why town officials were stunned to receive two more invoices several months later in early December.
Plante was hired in May 2021 and resigned in September of that year.
Beaulieu explained how his firm was first approached by former Town Manager Joe Roach shortly before Roach resigned in August 2020. By the time then-Town Manager John Andrews signed a letter of engagement, the entire office staff had left.
Andrews was hired in November 2020 and resigned in May 2021, leading to Plante’s appointment.
“When we began doing the audit of your financial statements, the first thing we needed were your financial statements,” Beaulieu said. “But then you had a different town manager, Mr. Roach, you had a different treasurer, Mrs. (Cindy) Dunn, and you had a different deputy clerk, Mrs. Candy Brooks. There were no financial statements to give us.”
Without financial statements, Beaulieu said he could not perform an audit. He offered to also provide accounting services to the town. Those services included preparing financial statements, doing reconciliations and making corrections and adjustments to those statements.
He added that he told Andrews that the audit would only cost $4,900. The balance, $15,285, covers his firm’s work in providing accounting services separate from the audit.
“We don’t need to do those services during a typical audit,” Beaulieu said. “Those are done by the town. But the town manager, John, and the board agreed to hire us to do that and signed that engagement letter.”
“The town was under complete distress,” Beaulieu added. “Turnover in all departments and a board that is not currently the board. We went out of our way to try to help the town of Buckfield get beyond some very stressful times.”
The current board also includes Cheryl Coffman, Robert Hand, Cameron Hinkley and Michael Iveson.
Town Manager Lorna Nichols, who has held that post since Oct. 4, 2021, and Selectman Michael Iveson pressed Beaulieu on the accounting services charges listed in the December invoice for “non-audit services.” Officials were especially concerned with several billing lines titles “other” that were later described as telephone and email charges.
“Keep in mind that the other services we billed for only amounted to 3.75 hours,” Beaulieu said. “It’s minute compared to the services we gave you to create financial statements and do adjustments that totaled over $3 million of errors on these financial statements that had to be corrected.”
Michael Iveson asked if the auditor could provide a similar breakdown in charges for the non-auditing bill for $4,967.50 that the town had already paid to make sure the town was not being double charged for services, but Beaulieu said that was impossible because his computer system purges the old invoices once they are paid.
“It’s impossible for my computer system to bill for things I already billed for,” Beaulieu said.
The board made no decision whether to pay the outstanding balance.
In other business, with two of the town’s five trucks out of service, the board agreed to spend up to $72,500 on a 2014 Freightliner plow truck. That price includes a $12,000 trade-in for the town’s 2007 truck as is, which needs repairs, Nichols said. The money will come from the town’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act.
The board also agreed to fast track the computer system upgrade in the Town Office to Trio software. Town voters approved spending $20,000 in each of the next three years for the software, but buying it outright now would save the town from paying maintenance fees for the outgoing system for two more years. The town will use $20,000 in the current budget and take $40,000 from American Rescue Plan Act money.
The board approved the appointments of Paula Sullivan and William Sullivan to the Planning Board.