NORRIDGEWOCK — Members of the town’s sewer commission say they are concerned about the transparency of sewer department accounts and that the former town manager and town auditor are to blame, even though much of the information they seek is already available.

The questions about transparency arise as the Sewer Department faces a funding shortage that has put it in debt to the town. Former Town Manager Michelle Flewelling, who told the commission on numerous occasions that its department was in bad shape financially, also has been accused of not being forthcoming with the information, even though there is no record of the commissioners having held any meetings in 2014 and information on their finances is available at the Town Office.

In addition to the allegations that incorrect numbers have been presented to them or numbers have not been presented at all, commission members also have misinterpreted information provided to them by the town auditor in a November meeting, the auditor, Ron Smith, said Friday.

Smith’s comments came in response to a letter written by Ron Currier, vice chairman of the sewer commissioners, that was shared with the Board of Selectmen this week. In the letter, addressed to Kristina Gossman, the commission chairwoman, Currier says he is concerned about the “integrity of the financial reports being provided” and alleges that the figures provided by Flewelling, also the former sewer administrator, do not match statements made by Smith. Currier could not be reached for comment Friday.

However, in the Nov. 19 meeting with commissioners to which Currier refers, Smith in fact reiterated what Flewelling had been telling the commission — that they are in debt to the town and do not have money to pay for repairs. He suggested either that a sewer rate increase be imposed or that the department consolidate with the town.

Gossman did not respond to requests for comment Friday. Other members of the commission include Charlotte Curtis; Bruce Obert, who declined to comment Friday; and Josh Chartrand, who could not be reached.

Some officials continue to argue that they have been lied to about the sewer funds.

At Wednesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Obert said “we’ve come to find out, from what the auditor says, that we have no money.”

“Our sewer administrator never informed us of that, that we didn’t have any monies and we’ve been spending money out of that repairing and fixing some pumps and doing some work at the treatment plant, just to find out that we don’t have any money,” he said.

The Sewer Department, which oversees the Norridgewock Wastewater Treatment Facility, has allotted money to a few small repairs over the last few months, over the same period of time that Flewelling also delivered disclaimers about the department’s financial standings.

Obert said that while the town audit report does not reflect the lack of funds, the auditor told the commissioners the money was spent years ago. “As of today, we have zero monies in them accounts,” he said at Wednesday night’s meeting, referring to the reserve accounts.

Smith, on Friday, said Obert and Currier were misinterpreting what he had said. Smith did tell the commissioners that the department has no funds, meaning it is in debt, not that there is literally zero money in the accounts, he said. The department has no operating funds, but there is money in the reserve accounts, he said.

Currier, in his letter, includes figures from the Sewer Department’s capital reserve accounts and then writes, “It came as quite a surprise when the auditor told us that there were no monies in any of these accounts. If he is correct, why are the accounts empty? And why were we (led) to believe there were real monies in each of these accounts?”

“I did not once say they didn’t have any capital reserve accounts,” Smith said. “What I told them is, ‘You don’t have all the cash sitting there that you think you do because of the operational deficit that you’ve run up and the money that you owe the town.'”

Smith said that while he has not seen the department’s accounting work yet for this year, he is confident in the accuracy of the 2014 audit. According to that report, the department had $332,480 in its reserve account as of Dec. 31, 2014.

As of Friday, there was $122,592 in the department’s collection system account, $90,154 in its equipment fund and $119,732 in its building (sewer plant) account, according to Peter Lyman, the town bookkeeper. The three accounts together make up the department capital reserves.

Lyman said the numbers are in the office and they are available for anyone to see. The department owes the town $109,022 and is being subsidized by a bond that the town took out to pay for debt service for the Sewer Department, Lyman said.

So while money is in the accounts, the department also owes money at the same time.

Ron Frederick, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said board members have not discussed Currier’s letter yet but they plan to do so at their next meeting. Frederick said he was not at any of the commission meetings in which the department’s finances have been discussed, but he has no issues with the 2014 audit.

He said he was surprised when Obert said there was no money in the sewer accounts.

“I think there’s money in the sewer account,” Frederick said. “I can’t give you the exact figures, but it’s all available at the Town Office and it’s all public knowledge.”

Frederick would not comment when asked whether he thinks the allegations in Currier’s letter are the result of a personal problem with Flewelling.

The letter and comments at Wednesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting are not the first time that Currier and Obert have targeted Flewelling.

In August, Currier made a motion to silence Flewelling at a commission meeting; and in September, he and Obert accused Flewelling of having an “attitude” in a meeting that grew so hostile she excused herself from the room.

Obert also will not say whether he started a petition in September asking the Board of Selectmen not to renew Flewelling’s contract. Flewelling recently left to take a job as town manager in Fairfield.

At a public hearing on the town’s search for a new town manager last month, he voiced complaints about Flewelling, mainly related to a speed bump that was put in on Upper Main Street and a glass window in the Town Office intended to protect town employees.

Currier, in his letter this week, said he thought that Flewelling and Smith had developed a “cozy” relationship.

He writes that after obtaining a copy of the town’s 2014 audit report at the Town Office, he did not find the information that Smith provided the commissioners at a recent meeting in which he was asked to meet with them.

“It seems that the discussion of the audit that he related to us that he had with the town manager was not passed on to us nor were his comments included in the printed audit report,” Currier wrote.

“The same accounting firm has done our audits for several years under our same sewer administrator (town manager) and at our last meeting there seemed to be a ‘cozy’ relationship that may have developed between them,” he said. “Does this auditing firm audit the town of Fairfield or is it soliciting their account?”

Smith said Friday that his firm, RHR Smith & Co., does perform the audit for the town of Fairfield and has for about the last 12 years, long before Flewelling worked in either town.

“It’s pretty apparent there’s some kind of a battle going on between (Currier) and the former town manager and it’s personal,” Smith said. “There’s no doubt about that in my mind.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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