Long-awaited Snow bowl redevelopment audit to be discussed April 18Audit reviewed town government accounting procedures
CAMDEN — A long-awaited discussion of an audit of the town of Camden's finances in regard to the redevelopment of the Snow Bowl's trails, lifts and snow-making will take place April 18 at the Select Board meeting.
The discussion of the audit by a representative of RHR Smith & Company of Buxton, the accounting company hired to conduct the audit, is on the agenda. The meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room.
The multi-million dollar Snow Bowl project was completed in January 2015, under the supervision of Town Manager Pat Finnigan. Finnigan resigned in January 2017. The redevelopment was paid for with $4.5 million pledged by the non-profit Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation and a $2 million municipal bond approved by Camden voters. Originally, the $6.5 million project was for the ski mountain expansion and a new lodge. However, cost overruns announced in March 2015 revealed that another $1.6 million was needed to build the lodge. Ragged Mountain Recreation pledged to raise the additional funds.
The audit has been delayed several times since it was announced by the Camden Select Board in January. At that time, the board voted to pay $12,000 for the audit, and announced it was expected to be done by Feb. 15. RHR Smith & Company of Buxton specializes in governmental and nonprofit audits and accounting services, according to the company's website.
Select Board Chairman John French has described the audit as a detailed analysis of town spending from 2012 to 2016 on the Snow Bowl redevelopment project and as a forensic audit.
A March 17 press release issued by the town of Camden, addressed the delay:
"Town of Camden staff and representatives of the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation met with the auditor on March 14 to discuss the pending audit regarding the Snow Bowl redevelopment project," according to the press release. "The parties are diligently seeking an accurate and informed audit report, which requires internal fact checking separate and aside from the efforts of the independent auditor."
The press release continued, "The audit has been delayed due to the amount of material which required review, the travel schedules of principals and the weather."
The target of the audit is Camden town government's financial management of the Snow Bowl redevelopment. RMRAF is not a subject of the audit
Private meetings and the audit
The audit was announced to the public by the Select Board Jan. 11, immediately following an executive session, or closed-door meeting, regarding a personnel matter. The Select Board held a second private meeting Jan. 18 regarding a personnel matter. Immediately following the meeting, former Town Manager Patricia Finnigan submitted her resignation, and vacated the job two days later.
The Select Board has not discussed any connection between the audit and Finnigan's resignation.
The April 18 Select Board meeting will be proceeded by another closed-door meeting, in which the Select Board will consult with an attorney. While the subject of the meeting is not known, the agenda item specifies that it will be in regard to any of the following areas:
"The legal rights and duties of the body or agency, pending or contemplated litigation, settlement offers and matters where the duties of the public body's or agency's counsel to the attorney's client pursuant to the code of professional responsibility clearly conflict with with subchapter or where premature general public knowledge would clearly place the state, municipality or other public agency or person at a substantial disadvantage."
Camden's town attorney is Bill Kelly.
Private citizen inquiry into town finances
The timing of the audit is also connected to an investigation conducted by a private citizen into the town of Camden's financial management of the Snow Bowl redevelopment.
Chris Morong, the owner of Mt. Battie Car Wash, and a former banker for 23 years, filed a Freedom of Access request with the town of Camden in 2016 to obtain financial information on the Snow Bowl redevelopment. He received the information from the town of Camden in mid-December, and then spoke to Select Board members about his findings in late December.
Earlier in 2016, Morong was a member of a short-term budget team tasked with advising the Select Board on the Snow Bowl's 2017-18 budget. As he looked into the ski area's expenses, Morong came across financial management practices that he found troubling.
Morong was told by Finnigan that she had not yet invoiced Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation for more than $300,000, which the town had spent on the ski mountain's redevelopment.
Ragged Mountain confirmed in February that it had paid the town of Camden for all of the invoices that were submitted to the foundation.
For Morong, what Finnigan told him did not square with acceptable accounting and financial management practices. It indicated that invoicing was in arrears, and raised questions about whether procedures were being followed for obtaining Select Board authorization for spending, and what town funds were being used to pay the bills.
Interim Town Manager Robert Smith told the Camden Budget Committee on April 13 that she is not recommending any funds be taken from surplus to reduce the impact of taxes in the proposed 2017-18 budget. She explained that her rationale for leaving the surplus untouched is the lack of resolution to the Snow Bowl redevelopment audit that has been underway, but was not yet completed. In the past few years, Camden has taken an average of $150,000 a year from surplus to reduce taxes.
Courier Publications reporter Susan Mustapich can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.