Two months after the initial delivery of a citizen petition that garnered over 80 signatures, the Waterford select board made an attempt to address some residents’ concerns regarding town finances and the possible future purchase of an excavator during their regular meeting on Oct. 11.
Since the petition in question was not included on the meeting’s agenda, petition organizer and Waterford resident Clement “Clem” Gray spoke up right away.
After some back-and-forth between Gray and Select Board Chair Fred Saar about who or what was to blame for the delay, Select Board Member Bill Piper told Gray “it will be tonight.”
Following a lengthy citizens’ concern regarding Saar’s conduct and health insurance policies, both of which were moderated by Piper, the meeting’s focus turned to the petition, which stated: “We, the following citizens of the Town of Waterford, sign this petition in support of a full review of the spending of our taxpayer funds. This is to include, but not be limited to, the proposed spending of the Board for a new excavator and tractor for the Road boss, Lisle Houghton.”
“You’ve been very patient about this petition,” Piper began. “Thank you for that.”
Piper said that he had not discussed the petition with the other two selectmen, going on to address both issues raised in its text. He explained that town auditors, elected by the townspeople, review expenses on a monthly basis. In addition, the town is currently in the middle of a professional audit that happens “every two or three years.”
“I’m not sure what you’re asking for in addition to town auditors and professional CPAs who are currently looking at expenditures,” Piper said to Gray. “I’m not trying to be a wise-ass here, I’m genuinely asking you — is there something else you think the town should be doing?”
“Why do you need a new excavator and a tractor?” replied Gray, moving on to the second part of the petition.
“As far as I know, the select board has not proposed buying a new excavator,” replied Piper. “[Many months ago,] the topic of the excavator came up. I don’t recall anybody saying we should buy a new excavator […] it’s very possible that in looking at the old excavator and what it would cost to get fixed, maybe someone also looked at the cost of a new excavator.”
“A new excavator would be a major acquisition and something I’m sure we’d discuss on more than one occasion,” added Piper. “We would do ‘due diligence.’ […] We would certainly take citizen input on that question. But again, I don’t know how to address your petition because you appear to be asking us not to do something that we’re not doing.”
Gray was not satisfied with this explanation.
“But why did you, in June or July, in the minutes — I have them — it says ‘one of us select board members is going to go with Lisle [Houghton, the road foreman] to look at excavators and another one is going to go look at tractors,’” said Gray. “What would that tell you?”
“I don’t know, I don’t recall that,” replied Piper, going on to explain that when a problem is identified with an existing piece of equipment, the board looks to all the possible options and projected costs before making a decision.
“That’s the way it was worded in the minutes,” said Gray.
“Alright, I apologize for the minutes …” replied Piper.
According to the June 14 minutes, “Fred [Saar] reviewed the Highway Department equipment replacement schedule and discussed replacement of the excavator and tractor. The excavator is entering a period where the trade-in or sale value is at a high point, and the tractor also has a high trade-in value. Warner [Hodgdon, select board member] will work with Lisle on quotes for a replacement excavator and Fred [Saar] will work with Lisle on the tractor.”
A review of the Zoom recording of the June 14 meeting, available on the town website, indicates that these minutes are accurate: Saar informed the rest of the board that the two equipment candidates for replacement in 2022 were the excavator and tractor. During the short discussion, equipment repair was not specifically discussed, just that quotes should be obtained for replacement equipment.
“I don’t know how to answer your petition any more than I already have,” Piper went on to say. “When the time comes, and it will come, we will need to decide what to do with the town excavator. We haven’t gotten to that point yet.”
Gary Allard, a longtime select board member who did not run again in 2021, then spoke up, asking the board if they were going to put the excavator in the budget or as a separate warrant article.
“I think [the petitioners] are thinking they would like to say yay or nay since it’s their tax dollars,” Allard said.
Piper indicated that voters would have their say either way, adding that recently-received COVID funds might be used for the expense.
Roberta Gillott, the volunteer chair of a committee to suggest uses for the funds, indicated that such a use was strongly cautioned against.
“The issue of whether to buy it, if we’re going to buy it, how to finance it, how to pay for it … that will all be worked out and nobody’s going to do it behind closed doors,” said Piper. “Again, our select board decisions are made in open meetings. Having people show up and show interest in town government is a great thing. But we have to be able to get the job done. So I hope that we’ve dealt with your petition to your satisfaction, but I don’t know what else to say tonight. […] I think you can be pretty sure we’re not going to sneak out and buy an excavator.”
Waterford State Rep. Marcia Martel spoke up, requesting that details on town equipment and the equipment fund’s value be included in the town report. Martel said that the last time those values were printed was in 2017.
Saar and Piper agreed that was a good idea.
When asked on Tuesday why large portions of the meeting were moderated by Piper instead of the Saar, the board’s chair, Saar replied in an email: “My allergies are bothering me and my mouth was very dry. Difficulty talking.”
The next Waterford select board meeting will be held on Monday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.