White elephant fire boat, missing big screens — Westport needs answers
To the editor:
To Richard Spirlet, Chairman, Westport Board of Selectmen ...
The Westport Taxpayers Association (WTA) has never attacked the Westport Fire Department or its staff. Our issue is and our questions are with the management and the fiscal responsibility of the department. Why is it okay for a department head with the third largest budget in town to mislead the people that fund it? How has the fire department handled “water related emergencies throughout the year including the winter months” prior to Marine 1?
At the press conference convened just prior to the April, 2011 Town Election, Brian Legendre stated that Marine 1 was “funded through donations, grants, fundraising, and hazmat funding”. Remember, facts are stubborn things. Vouchers #’s 92996, 93254 and 93409 document the fact that $5,327 had been spent from the Fire Department’s general expense account when Mr. Legendre told the taxpayers that no taxpayer money had been spent on the boat. Then, just days before the end of the FY2012, Mr. Legendre spent an additional $7,433.66 from the department operating budget on the boat, a total of $12,760.66.
Mr. Legendre has misrepresented to Westport taxpayers that no money from the department’s operating budget had been spent on the fire boat. Furthermore, if any of the selectmen had acted responsibly and checked with the town’s harbormaster, they would have learned that, notwithstanding Mr. Legendre’s assertion to the contrary, the harbormaster’s vessel is on call and available year-round. The selectmen should have informed the taxpayers by asking Mr. Legendre to elaborate on the statement that the Fire Department “… now (emphasis supplied) factors the boat into the operating budget because it officially went into service this year, although it is not currently mission-capable …”
The Westport Fire Department, based on information from public records, has currently invested more than $35,320 and years of work on what has become a white elephant with “vanity plates” at a time when the town is in financial distress and has many other critical needs that are not being addressed.
Mr. Legendre has mismanaged the department’s budget, wasted the taxpayers’ money, and misled the taxpayer in the process. He has not persuasively explained why the town needs Marine 1, what the mission of Marine 1 is, why that mission cannot be accomplished with existing resources, or why he shuffled departmental funds to pay for refurbishing the boat; funds, for example, that, had they been properly managed, could have staffed the north end ambulance service to avoid service interruption, additional staffing costs, and spare the taxpayers from Mr. Legendre’s alarmist rhetoric. The selectmen should ask Mr. Legendre how much more from the operating budget will be spent on Marine 1 before it is “mission-capable” and whether the boat will be outfitted with one of the innumerable flat screen TVs that adorn the Taj Majal (aka the “Taj”)?
The WTA is also alarmed by the fact that, during a public tour of the Taj on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, we could only account for 11 of the 14 big flat-screen TVs that were purchased with 20-year bond money. Just as with a home mortgage, these borrowed funds (principal, interest and a Community Preservation Act surcharge on principal and interest), must all be repaid over the life of the bond. WTA also wonders where the three unaccounted-for TVs are currently located as they too are being paid for using 20-year bond money.
Chairman Spirlet, you, together with all of the other members of the Board of Selectmen and the entire Westport Finance Committee, have clearly displayed and continue to display an allergy to sunlight and accountability. Your continued response or lack of response to mismanagement and waste of the taxpayers’ dollars has resulted in a climate of coverup.
One need only point to the status of the Highway Department forensic audit, the Fire Station building audit, the East Beach road repair, the Building Inspector’s unprecedented number of extensions for him to become certified, the new south end fire department’s jet ski, the “new” 30-year-old fire truck, the new Fire Department cars, the parking ticket fixing policy in the BOS office, the total amount of money and extra appropriations and transfers needed to pay last year’s legal bills, the status of your “constituent services” program and countless other problems in order to confirm your allergy to accountability and the reason why Westport’s taxpayers are suffering.
Chairman Spirlet, in the short time you have left in office, lead us in the cleanup of our town government, restore accountability and stop the coverups. Give the taxpayers a break.
President, Westport Taxpayers Association