Manager on paid leave of absence; disposal fees undercharged by $41,000, one town says

Mid-Coast Solid Waste Corp. manager on paid leave; town managers, board chairman at helm

Posted:  Monday, December 10, 2018 - 1:45pm

ROCKPORT — While the manager of Mid-Coast Solid Waste Corp. – the transfer station and dump for Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport — is on paid administrative leave, the respective town managers and administrators Audra Caler-Bell, Samantha Mank, David Kinney and Rick Bates are in charge of the operation, along with the nonprofit’s board chairman, Owen Casas, of Rockport.

Casas declined to comment on why Manager Jim Guerra is on an indefinite leave of absence, but said the action follows an emergency board meeting that was held Friday evening, Dec. 7, at the Rockport Town Office.

There, he said, the board convened for approximately 90 minutes and upon exiting, made two motions:

1) To authorize the Executive Committee [comprising the town managers, administrators and Casas] to manage the day-to-day operations of the facility through their designee or designees during the manager’s absence; and

2) To authorize that designee or designees to spend an amount not to exceed $5,000 for further auditing services.

Casas said the purpose of the latter motion is to expand on the current audit underway by RHR Smith and Company, of Buxton, a business that conducts annual audits of Camden and Rockport.

The goal of spending more money of the Solid Waste audit, if necessary, is to determine with finer precision whether it behooves the facility — and taxpayer — to fill up the quarries with demolition material quickly but with leaner revenue, or to fill the quarries more slowly, but at full cost to the contractors or haulers, and bring in more revenue to the facility.

The Town of Lincolnville has articulated a concern about revenue lost at the gate since July.

“The draft audit is good information, but we might spend more time to get a better financial picture,” said Casas, on Dec. 10.

The MCSW board has been in and out of executive session several times over the past fall to address personnel issues. The latest ended with Guerra on paid leave, and moving forward with Casas handling most of the administrative tasks, for the time being.

“Everything is going to function the same,” he said.

More specifically, some towns have been concerned about the functioning of the MCSW, both from at the administrative and board levels. Lincolnville will discuss this evening the latest state of affairs at a regularly scheduled selectmen’s meeting, beginning at 6 p.m. at the Lincolnville Town Office. 

The town, as expressed by Town Administrator David Kinney, hopes to see addressed:

....”The MCSWC Board of Directors has voted to have the MCSWC Executive Committee oversee the day to day operations of the facility. Hopefully this action will ‘right the ship’ and get the Corporation back on the appropriate course.  At this time Lincolnville Board action may not be necessary.  Issues of concern that were to be addressed (and can still be discussed) under this agenda item include but are limited to:

  • “MCSWC agendas not be prepared and posted in a timely fashion in accordance with the bylaws adopted by the MCSWC Board of Directors;

  • “The lack of a purchasing policy or guidelines that lead to recent award of a “no-bid” contract;
  • “Telephone voting that occurred at the MCSWC Board of Directors November 7 meeting. According the Maine Municipal Association ‘There is still no clear legal authority for members of local boards, elected or appointed, to participate in meetings remotely by any means.’ (Maine Townsman, June 2016, see enclosed)  This view in entirely consistent with the advice given previous Lincolnville Boards by our Town Attorney and recently reiterated, see enclosed.  Also, at a subsequent meeting of the MCSWC Board of Directors it was acknowledged that this was allowed in error;
  • “Inappropriate statutory references for executive sessions leading to multiple agenda revisions;
  • The recent discovery that the disposal fees charged at the gatehouse for the disposal of municipal solid waste have been undercharged since July 1 leading to a revenue loss estimated at $41,000 of which according to the Facility Manager less than half is ‘likely recoverable’.”

The explanation of the last issue was explained in the Nov. 13 manager’s report to the MCWS board of directors:

“As the Board of Directors may recall, the beginning of Fiscal Year starting last July began with a 25 percent increase in fees associated with the disposal of household trash. I worked through the logistics of bag sales while keeping efforts streamlined at the gatehouse finally landing on bundles of four large bags for $10 rather than five for $12.50 and ordered 100,000 new bags bundled accordingly. The increase for small bag was simply a matter of raising the price from $12.50 to $15 per bundle of ten. While I had gone on public record in all four towns, as well as local newspapers that the per ton price would also be raised by 25 percent, either this adjustment was inadvertently not made on July 1 or the entry of the new price into Point of Sale was not saved.

“Worse still, this error was not realized until two weeks ago. The result is that the per ton revenue line was undercharged for a total of $41,000. The proper price of $160 per ton is now in place.

While slightly more than half of the undercharge went to non account holders, $19,300 went to our regular hauler accounts and is likely recoverable. After all, we were very public in our announcements. I have spoken directly with our largest haulers and we are working on a plan to bill the agreed difference as a separate line divided equally over each billing cycle for the remainder of the fiscal year. It may be required that we absorb the remaining uncollected funds utilizing undesignated fund balance at the end of this fiscal year.

“This was an unfortunate oversight and I am working with Beth and our Bookkeeper to come up with a plan to avoid such mistakes or at least flag them much earlier than this. I hope to have more information for you on this matter at our meeting this Wednesday.”