WELLFLEET — With seven weeks until this year’s annual town meeting, the fiscal 2022 operating budget proposed by Town Administrator Maria Broadbent and Town Accountant Heather Michaud shows a $331,000 deficit.
Meanwhile, six town department heads told the select board on April 5 that Broadbent and Michaud had either misrepresented or changed their budgets without the heads’ knowledge.
“There’s a recurring theme,” board chair Michael DeVasto said. “Cuts were made, but departments weren’t notified or consulted about those cuts.”
Broadbent declined this week to answer questions from the Independent about what went wrong.
Each winter, department heads present their proposed budgets to the finance committee for review. As town meeting approaches, the town administrator does a final review and submits those budgets to the select board. “Normally, by this time,” said board member Justina Carlson, “this meeting would have been approving the budgets.”
Instead, in a move Carlson called “unusual” and “surprising,” the select board adjusted one budget and remanded 10 others back to Broadbent and dept. heads for further work.
Broadbent said, early in the meeting, that “we didn’t cut anything from the department head budgets.” Several heads said that statement was untrue.
Police Chief Michael Hurley cited a $12,158.22 decrease from the $1,574,422 he had requested for full-time police salaries in the town administration’s proposed budget. At the meeting, Hurley called the salary cut “not sustainable.”
“I’m getting the impression that this was done without consulting the department,” DeVasto said to the chief.
“It was lost in translation,” Hurley replied. In an interview, he confirmed that he did not find out about the changes to his budget “until after the select board packet was made public.”
On April 5, the select board voted unanimously to move funding for police body cameras (which Broadbent had moved to the capital improvement plan) and $12,000 in full-time salaries back to the police dept.’s operating budget.
“With all due respect,” said Fire Chief Richard Pauley, “when a statement is made that there are no cuts in the budget — there have been.” Among other changes, town administration lowered the fire dept.’s full-time salary budget by $10,610.12, cut the department’s medical supplies budget from $37,350 to $35,000, and slashed $16,000 from Pauley’s $36,000 equipment budget. The cuts “came to light Thursday afternoon,” just after the select board packet was made public, Pauley said. “I just don’t know where to begin.”
The select board voted unanimously to remand the fire dept. budget to the town administrator and Pauley.
Shellfish Constable Nancy Civetta said she had “some of the same comments as Chief Pauley.” The budget that Broadbent and Michaud presented to the select board as Civetta’s “department head budget” did not, in fact, “match what I proposed to FinCom and what FinCom voted on,” Civetta said. The select board voted unanimously to remand the shellfish dept. budget.
Director of Community Services Suzanne Grout Thomas said that voters at last year’s annual town meeting had approved $305,000 for the human services dept. But the administration budget allocated the department only $241,960. Voters approved $100,000 in preschool tuition vouchers for four-year-olds and $100,000 for three-year-olds, but the administration budget allocated $136,960 for four-year-olds and nothing for three-year-olds.
“The way it’s laid out here is confusing even to me,” Thomas told the select board. “I’d rather have an opportunity to discuss it with Maria and Heather before it comes to you.” The board unanimously remanded that budget to Thomas and Broadbent.
Broadbent and Michaud reduced the Wellfleet Public Library’s book budget from $55,000 to $45,000. “I was not consulted on that,” said Library Director Jennifer Wertkin. In addition, Wertkin said, her “absolutely crucial” temporary staff budget was eliminated. And Wertkin, like Civetta, said the administration had misrepresented her budget request to the select board.
“What we’re looking at right now, where it says, ‘Department Head 2022,’ these numbers are not accurate to what you submitted to FinCom?” asked DeVasto.
“Exactly,” replied Wertkin. The board voted unanimously to remand the library budget.
Becky Rosenberg, the recreation dept. head, dealt with an $18,484.38 cut to her proposed $371,169 budget. “Without really knowing why,” Rosenberg said, the cuts included all $5,600 in vacation buyouts, all $2,800 used yearly to clean the elementary school gym’s wooden floor, and all $10,000 used to buy road race supplies. The select board voted unanimously to remand that budget.
The Board also remanded the harbormaster-marina enterprise budget, the board of health and conservation budgets, the historical commission budget, and the community services budget.
The board approved budgets for all six dept. of public works divisions and for the recycling committee, the building dept., traffic and parking, veteran services, holiday celebrations, the cultural council, the beach dept., and the council on aging.
“The town accountant and I are meeting with department heads individually to go over their budgets,” Broadbent wrote in response to a detailed request for comment from the Independent this week. “Until we finish these meetings, I don’t have any new information other than what was said in the meeting.”