MERCER — More than 30 residents filed into the Town Office on Thursday night to air their grievances with selectmen about the town’s contracting process.

Most of the complaints were aimed at First Selectman Vernon Worthen, who until recently held a plowing contract with town.

Yolanda Violette, Mercer’s town clerk, said Worthen notified the Board of Selectmen that due to health reason, he would be backing out of his plowing contract Nov. 11 — days before an expected snowstorm.

In response, the board signed a contract with Mercer Sand & Gravel for $150,000 during a special meeting Nov. 13 — a $15,000 hike from Worthen’s $135,000 contract.

In the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting, residents said they wanted Worthen to be liable to pay the town the $15,000 difference between his contract and the new plowing contract.

“Why hasn’t the town pursued the liability of Vernon backing out of the contract?” Robert Gardner said. “You defaulted on the contract, plain and simple. Anyone who defaults on the contract (is) liable. That money shouldn’t come out of us as taxpayers.”

Gardner also said he felt Worthen should not hold contracts with the town in the first place.

“It’s a major conflict of interest entering town contracts with selectmen,” Gardner said. “If you’re getting a paycheck from the townspeople, you should not get a contract from this town.”

The town does not have an official charter that outlines the rules regarding selectmen holding contracts with the town.

In repsonse to Gardner’s concerns, Worthen pointed to Mercer’s small population.

“In a perfect world, I would agree that select people shouldn’t have contracts,” Worthen said. “But this is a town of 600 people.”

The attention of the crowd then shifted to discussing two other bids Worthen presented to the town for a pellet boiler system and an oil boiler system at the Town Office.

Violette said the town had put out a bid request for a pellet boiler system in 2012 and received two bids, each for more than $120,000. Worthen presented a bid for less than $100,000 and was awarded the project.

In 2017, the oil boiler at the building failed and a bid was put out for a replacement. The town received an estimate from Bob’s Cash Fuel of Madison, but Worthen presented a lower bid and again was awarded the project.

According to Violette and attendees at Thursday’s meeting, both boilers have experienced problems.

“I have concerns that the oil burner that was installed was designed to be a backup system, and the boilers out there are not functional,” resident Dari Hurley said.

Hurley, who took it upon herself to research the boiler systems, said the contractors Worthen hired to install the boiler in 2017 are no longer licensed.

“When I hired both installers, I was under the impression that they were licensed, and they were at the time, and that they would do it up to code,” Worthen said.

Though multiple attendees called for Worthen to resign at the meeting, he defended his position.

“I love the town of Mercer,” Worthen said.

The town’s lack of a charter also means that selectmen cannot be removed from their positions unless they commit a crime against the town.

The next town meeting is scheduled for Dec. 5 at the Town Office.

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