What does it really mean when Winthrop gets a D in finance? It hasn’t changed our basic inner strengths, but it has soured, even embittered, some longtime and faithful town employees.

The way the special audit has been done has left suspicion everywhere. But again, this has not changed who we actually are: Neighbors, friends, relatives, old, young, longtime residents and recently arrived. We are, at the very least, a pleasant town for most residents, and some of us have our little bit of paradise here.

The biggest issue has centered on 22 bank accounts that use the town’s tax ID number. Some were established rather informally; some have been in use for more than a generation; a few are recent. A couple are rather inactive and probably need to be settled appropriately. At the outset, the auditor suggested that we may have been taken to the cleaners through these. As it turns out, nothing involving serious money has been uncovered yet, nor is it likely to.

Most of us recognize the easiness with which we have trusted each other. We have come to know most of the people in our schools and our town employees, some of whom have been in their positions for years — even more than 25 years. We know our community members are eager to support our schools and the community. There are volunteer undertakings around town, approved by some official or another, which require money that they therefore have to raise so as not to burden our taxpayers. I absolutely believe that most of them want our town to be a special place and to do their jobs toward that end. We really appreciate them and their efforts.

The reality is that times and technology have changed, and we need to be more prudent. It behooves us to fix the way these accounts happened and are handled.

The biggest accounts are those used by each of our schools for student activities. The high school has the largest of these because of all the intermural sports and clubs we have and the special funds each class earns and collects for their senior adventures. These have been noted for years during audits. The auditors, up to now, seemed satisfied with the way the principals and their secretaries have handled this money.

A great deal of this money is not from our tax dollars but rather money raised from the efforts of our students, parents and community members to fund specific sports, clubs or events. It is unlikely that we will find a major breach of trust or misuse of the taxpayers money or the contributions. And no one seems to have picked up that the pay-to-play money needs to be moved to the general fund as revenue. Let it be done; it’s a pretty big error, but no money is missing.

Specific instances have been written up in this paper: Sam’s Club memberships for teachers, a capital improvement to a ballfield not budgeted for or paid out of capital funds, handling of a class account closed with a check written to an individual, non-town employees being responsible for the accounts.

Teachers paid for their memberships at Sam’s Club through the schools’ account, thereby qualifying for a lower membership fee. No tax dollars were used for these memberships. This is common practice for Sam’s business and organization accounts. Quite a number of us also have had such discounted memberships through our employers. Taxpayers did not pay for these memberships.

The repair on the ballfield was needed for safety. Officials got the job done and paid for it through one of the sports’ pieces of the activities account. “Proper” accounting for this situation is being remedied through normal budget procedures.

Non-town employees on those accounts have been parents, or members of the community, American Legion, Lions Club or other organizations. I don’t think any of them intended to commit fraud or steal from taxpayers or students or the town — nor did they.

It is indeed important for the town and schools to get these accounts sorted and into a system that enables all of us to understand where the dollars come from and how they are used. However, it isn’t necessary to condemn a generations-old approach or insinuate that we have left ourselves wide open to gross fraud.

We are a small town. Many of our townsfolk have been around a long time, and others, liking what they find, have moved to town. A big part of the draw of Winthrop has been the sense of community we have. Generally, we are a community with a sense of caring. We are a community with good schools. We are a community with quite a diversity of religions and social, economic, educational backgrounds and skills. And we are blessed with a stunningly beautiful piece of Earth. Let’s recognize this, take three deep breaths, and appreciate and enjoy who we really are.

I especially want to this opportunity to thank our dedicated town and school employees. This too shall pass.

Priscilla J. Jenkins is a town councilor for Winthrop

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