WELLFLEET — One of the first tasks of new Town Administrator Maria Broadbent was to fire the town accountant.
Gene Ferrari Jr. said he was dismissed on Sept. 22, the last day of his one-year contract. When he asked the reason, “I was told that she doesn’t need a reason,” Ferrari told the Independent.
The following week, the select board discussed a cash shortfall and the possible need to borrow in anticipation of tax revenue, which is expected to roll in once tax bills are sent. But the cash on hand may not last long enough to pay the town’s bills before the tax revenues arrive.
No one has said this shortfall is anyone’s fault. Rather, the coronavirus has played a major role, along with select board decisions related to a steep drop in beach parking revenues.
The long delayed annual town meeting also led to a delay in getting tax bills out.
The town’s cash receipts are down by $507,000 from the previous year, said select board chair Mike DeVasto. Beach parking revenue was off $375,000, or three-quarters of the total decrease. The select board suspended the sale of day passes in 2020 to discourage beach overcrowding.
DeVasto described a shortfall of $39,818 resulting from more trash. When the pay-as-you-throw system was suspended, along with recycling for several months, waste disposal costs went up, he said.
He also reported that ambulance receipts decreased by $49,651, as fewer people than usual have been transported to the hospital during the pandemic.
Assuming that the pandemic does not continue with the same intensity next year, these budget busters appear to be short-term problems, DeVasto said.
The timing of the annual town meeting also played a role. Usually it takes place in April and that is when the budget is approved, allowing the tax rate to be set. This year, the budget was not approved until September, and town officials are still working on setting the tax rate.
Broadbent would not say why she dismissed Ferrari.
A memo presented to the select board on Sept. 30 stated, “The tax rate is close to being finalized but accounting discrepancies are slowing progress.”
Town Treasurer Miriam Spencer used more colorful language when she described the budget shortfall to the select board.
“My biggest concern is that the tax rate is not set and there are a number of things that must happen before we get revenue in,” Spencer said. “I knew that process was being slowed down, not intentionally, but it was not moving at a pace I was comfortable with, so it looked like a train wreck waiting to happen.”
Broadbent tried to downplay the situation. She said Spencer was merely trying to avoid a problem before it arose. Lots of communities borrow money against expected tax receipts, using a revenue anticipation note with a low interest rate, said Broadbent.
Spencer said Eastham Finance Director Rich Bienvenue, a C.P.A. and Wellfleet native, would be brought in to help Wellfleet.
When Ferrari, who is 59 and lives in Brewster, was hired in September 2019, he filled a position vacated by Connie Boulos, who had worked for the town for about two years. The job had been vacant for about three months when Ferrari arrived, he told the finance committee in December 2019.
Before coming to the Cape, he had been the town accountant in Athol for nine years and then became town accountant in Pepperell in 2011. He has an M.B.A. from Nichols College in Dudley.
In 2015, the city council of Gardner bought him out of a three-year contract as the city auditor after just a single year, according to the Gardner News. The paper reported that he was hired in 2014 and that he struggled because he was unfamiliar with Munis, the city’s accounting system. In 2016, he became the town accountant in Charlton.We