CLARKSBURG – After Clarksburg’s longtime treasurer left in December 2020, the city struggled to manage its payments.
Overdrawn accounts, incorrect paychecks and temporarily suspended life insurance policies have raised concerns among members of the Northern Berkshire School Union, among others who work for the city government.
But, people in and around city government say the city has the money and its problems are due to flaws in the accounting process, not a lack of funds. Clarksburg has begun to tackle these issues, with the help of an outside consultant hired in August.
However, public manifestations of tension within the municipal government complicated matters. At an August 25 board meeting, Ron Boucher, then chairman of the board, expressed frustration with city administrator Rebecca Stone over Stone’s handling of the accounting issues. Stone left the meeting, which was taped by Northern Berkshire Community Television, and did not return to town hall.
Boucher, who apologized at the meeting for the “explosion,” resigned from the board a week later, citing changes in his personal life. Danielle Luchi now chairs the Select Board, which now has only two members.
Stone has been on extended sick leave, Luchi said, and Luchi performs some of the city administrator’s duties to ensure the day-to-day running of town hall. But, she said she was “by no means an interim municipal administrator.”
During a phone call, Luchi referred to comments she made to iBerkshires, but said she didn’t have time for an extended interview.
John Franzoni, superintendent of the Northern Berkshire School Union, said he recognized that the town’s accounting problems were “being resolved”.
Nonetheless, following recent leadership changes, he said it remains important for the city and the school union to work together as they face a decision to be made on the fate of Clarksburg Primary School. .
âWe’ve really spent almost a month now in Clarksburg without the pointers that have been there the last few years,â he said, referring to Boucher and Stone. âWe appreciate having a new treasurer who has made improvements and a new chair of the board who says she is doing her best. My concern is that we need an interim municipal administrator.
Luchi declined to say whether the city was considering hiring an interim city administrator while Stone was away.
The elementary school needs improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Franzoni said, but he said the city would need to get a grading to get the necessary grants. Luchi said she couldn’t say if the city had a bond rating, and Treasurer Amy Cariddi did not return The Eagle’s communications left on Wednesday and Thursday.
The only alternative to school upgrades, Franzoni said, is to start talks for a regional deal with North Adams.
âThis issue has really been postponed for a long time at Clarksburg, and there has to be a decision,â said Franzoni. “The future of our school in Clarksburg is only there if we work together.”
The city’s accounting problems began after the departure of former treasurer Ericka Oleson, whom Boucher called “a great loss to the city”. Oleson, who held the position for four years, left in December 2020 to become treasurer at Stockbridge.
There has been complete turnover of town hall staff over the past two years, Boucher said, and he has heard “the same complaints from new hires as I have from old hires,” he said at the meeting. August 25 meeting.
The loss of âkey employees,â he told The Eagle, has hurt the city.
âIt’s of course easier when you have someone who has been doing the job for a few years,â said Boucher. âThe starts are difficult because you have to hope to be lucky and find someone with the right skills and experience.
At the end of January, the city hired Darcy Feder, then deputy manager at TD Bank in Williamstown, as treasurer. Feder changed jobs with Cariddi in August, with Feder becoming the administrative assistant and Cariddi the treasurer.
The city also hired Hill-Town Municipal Accounting Services in August to help it close the books for fiscal year 2021. Terry Green, of Hill-Town, said at the meeting of the Board of Directors of the August 25, when she visited the office, she saw “really no organization, basically no rhyme or reason where things were, mail that hadn’t been opened since March.”
âPeople who have quit or are no longer working for the city, you are still paying for their medical insurance,â Green said at the meeting. “You always pay for a list of things, and these have to be reconciled.”
Franzoni highlighted the impact of accounting issues on the school union during a joint meeting on September 16 between the board of directors and the school committee. The school union will likely miss the October 1 deadline to file its financial report with the state, Franzoni said, because it first needs the city to close its books for fiscal year 2021.
Among other examples he listed was the fact that schools could not use a grant to purchase necessary equipment because the city’s Amazon account was at maximum, and employees were told that their life insurance policies had been canceled – but have since been reinstated – because the city was not making payments.
The city had reached its spending limit of $ 10,000 on its Amazon account, and its emergency-use credit card had also reached its limit, Cariddi told iBerkshires. She said the city has now made its payments.
Franzoni said the school union remains “confident that we can still access these funds” which it received through a grant from the United Way.
âWe just need a process that will allow payments to be made on a timely basis,â Franzoni said. “Our districts don’t get the funding that a lot of the bigger districts get, so we really depend on these grants, and that’s something we need the city to keep on top of its payments.”
He added that Stone had worked with the school union on grants for improvements to the Americans with Disabilities Act and for energy efficient lighting for town hall and elementary school. Stone’s leave, which he says is “none of my business,” worries him who in town hall is stepping in to continue this work.
Stone became a city administrator in late 2019 after the board chose her over Lisa Blackmer, and her contract expires in October 2022.
While Franzoni said he believed Clarksburg needed an interim city administrator, Boucher said he believed the board could manage without the city administrator. Boucher himself helped fill in the gaps following the resignation of former city administrator Carl McKinney in May 2019, he said.
Boucher said he remains confident the city is on the right track.
âEveryone who is employed by the city of Clarksburg is doing a good job – that was true three weeks ago when I was there, at least,â Boucher said. âWe had a small problem, but we took steps to resolve it. “
Regarding the future of Clarksburg Elementary School, Franzoni said he discussed with Luchi the possibility of including a non-binding voting question in the December special election to take Boucher’s seat on the board. directors of three members. The question would ask residents to decide between pursuing improvements to the school and contacting North Adams about a possible regional deal.
The special election is scheduled for December 7.