Edgartown deals with water billing, banned dogs


Edgartown selectmen clashed Monday with water department superintendent Fred Domont, over accounting changes recommended by the town’s independent auditor. In a management letter attached to the town’s 2009 audit, the auditor suggested ways to improve the accounting system.

According to town manager Pam Dolby, the auditor made it very clear in the management letter that the water department should not send bills and collect money through the same office. Selectmen wanted to work out a way for the town’s tax collector to take payments. Mr. Domont objected strenuously.

“I’m shocked, totally shocked,” Mr. Domont said. “There is nothing in this report, there is nothing that has come to the water department, that mentions the change in billing. Who has the authority that says you can’t bill and collect in the same place? I don’t believe that’s true.”

“This comes from the auditor,” selectman Art Smadbeck said. “This has been a flag for a number of years. It’s not saying anything the water department is doing is wrong. What he’s saying is for Edgartown to run better, as far as accounting is concerned.”

Three elected commissioners govern the water department. The commission, with all three members present, opened a joint meeting with selectmen during the discussion Monday.

Another point of contention is the software the water department uses for accounting. Selectmen want the department to change to the Municipal Information System (MUNIS) accounting software used by nearly every other town department, and by many other municipalities.

“After we met last year, I thought this whole issue was resolved,” water commission chairman William Burnham said. “We did take a look at the MUNIS system. We discovered there are a lot of things in the MUNIS system we would never use. We also discovered there are a lot of things in the system we have now that MUNIS can’t do.”

But chairman Margaret Serpa insisted the matter was not settled last year, and that the water department should make the change.

“We don’t want it to show up as a weakness on our report,” she said.

“Don’t shake your head, Fred, it’s going to happen,” Ms. Serpa said, speaking directly to Mr. Domont.

“Not as long as I’m here, Margaret,” Mr. Domont said.

Selectmen suggested the water department officials meet with the auditor, which raised yet another point of friction.

“We’ve been trying to meet with the auditor for four years,” Mr. Burnham said. “Both on the phone and in writing. He’s never responded.”

The two boards agreed to meet together with the auditor next month when he returns for work on the 2010 audit. Ms. Serpa said the reason the 2009 audit is so late, is a lack of information from the water department to the auditors that held up the final report.

The auditor’s letter recommended similar accounting changes for the wastewater department. Wastewater treatment manager Joe Alosso said the changes sounded like a reasonable approach.

“This is the proper way it should be handled,” Mr. Alosso said. “I’m familiar with the MUNIS wastewater module, it works very well.”

Also Monday, selectmen agreed to seek a legal opinion on the board’s options to respond to a dog issue. According to Ms. Dolby, three Siberian Huskies owned by Kenneth Garde and his family are now kept at a home in Ocean Heights. The dogs were banned from Tisbury by order of the selectmen after numerous complaints about the dogs breaking out of their enclosure at the Garde’s home on West Spring Street in Vineyard Haven and killing chickens.

In a previous case involving another dog owned by the Garde family, a banned dog was relocated to Oak Bluffs, where it got loose and killed chickens in that town.

“The dogs were kicked out of Vineyard Haven,” Ms. Dolby said. “It seems on an Island like this, if one town gets rid of its problem, it doesn’t seem quite fair that it becomes another town’s problem.”

In a phone conversation with The Times on Tuesday, animal control officer Barbara Prada said all she can do is watch the situation closely. “There’s nothing I can do until they violate some law,” she said.”

In other action, selectman held a hearing on a request from NSTAR to install nine new utility poles on Meetinghouse Way. Selectmen objected to the overhead lines. An NSTAR representative said the company builds and operates overhead systems, and that the line is intended to carry large quantities of power in response to increased demand. Selectmen approved the new poles in a 2-0 vote. Selectman Michael Donaroma did not attend the meeting.