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Commissioner Challenges Town Mgr's Town Hall Accounting
Mayor: Warren Johnson's Concerns "Scant Few Points"
February 20, 2013
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riental Town Commissioner Warren Johnson has identified almost $20,000 spent on the Town Hall renovation that the Town Manager/General Contractor Bob Maxbauer had not included in the total of what the project cost. The money instead came from other departments, throwing into question the ultimate cost of the Town Hall renovation.

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Oriental’s Town Hall which had its grand re-opening earlier this month. Now, the reckoning for how much it cost. THe Town Manager, who also served as General Contractor promised it would come in under $289,000. A Town Commissioner says there were almost $20,000 in costs that were paid out of other departments rather than the renovation budget.

Johnson outlined those concerns about costs in a memo emailed last Monday February 11 to fellow Commissioners, the Mayor and Town Manager.

Mayor Bill Sage meanwhile is dismissing Johnson’s concerns as being “a scant few points.” Sage’s response to Johnson is that it’s up to the Town Manager — who supervised himself as the General Contractor — to account for the spending as he wished.

Promise to Stay Within Budget Challenged By Johnson’s Findings

Johnson says the $19,981 spent on the Town Hall project – mainly for labor but also for material – came from the Town’s Public Works and Administrative budgets. Dipping in to those budgets, would make the Town Hall renovation appear to cost less than it actually did.

Commissioners last year allocated $289,000 for the Town Hall renovation. There was no independent oversight during the project. Bob Maxbauer, acting in the self-supervisory dual role of Town Manager and General Contractor, said that the project would come in at or under budget.

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Town Commissioner Warren Johnson.

Then last month Maxbauer requested $10,000 more be allocated to pay for additional charges. Commissioners approved that extra spending at their meeting on February 5, days before the grand re-opening of the building.

That $10,000 cost overrun and the $19,981 in spending not applied to the project as outlined by Johnson add up to the project coming in at 10% over budget.

Johnson has also noted that some parts of the project – such as the landscaping and parking lot improvement – have not been done even though $14,000 was allocated for that. Fulfilling those aspects of the project would likely push the overruns even higher.

Concerns Laid Out In Meeting With Town Manager/General Contractor

Johnson – and fellow Commissioner Michelle Bessette – had met with Bob Maxbauer on Thursday February 7 to go over the invoices and charges for the renovation. Johnson laid out his remaining concerns in a memo to fellow commissioners in an email on Monday February 11. (TownDock.net sought that email from Town Hall under the NC Open Records Act, on Thursday February 14, and received it, in hard copy form, on Monday February 18. A scan of Johnson’s memo to fellow commissioners may be downloaded here. )

Biggest Discrepancy: Paying People From Other Budgets

Johnson’s biggest point of disagreement with Maxbauer is the $11,600 in salary paid to Laura Penninger, whom the Town Manager/General Contractor had hired in the fall as his Project Manager/Project Assistant.

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Town Manager Bob Maxbauer at left and in foreground, Laura Penninger, the Project Manager he hired partway through the Town Hall project. She was paid $17 an hour but not from the project budget. Instead, $10,600 in pay came from the Public Works and Administration budgets. She remains an employee, one of 5, besides Maxbauer in the offices of Oriental’s Town Hall.

In his memo to fellow commissioners, Johnson said that since Penninger “worked exclusively on the Town Hall project,” her salary – approximately $17 an hour — should have come from the renovation budget.

Instead, $5,600 of Penninger’s salary came from the Public Works budget, and the remaining $6,000 from the Administrative budget. Johnson says that after he challenged that accounting, Maxbauer told him it was a “judgment call” and that he paid Penninger from the Administrative budget because of “the increased amount of invoices as a result of the Town Hall project.”

“Judgment Calls”

Johnson says the Town Manager also claimed to be making a “judgment call” when $3,500 was drawn from the Public Works budget to pay employees working on the Town Hall project in the last 2 weeks of January. Johnson says that the Town Manager told him he tapped in to the Public Works fund to pay them because “three of the workers were going to be employed later for Public Works duties” and that Maxbauer considered their employment on the Town Hall project to be “a recruiting expense.”

Johnson writes in his memo that he expected those employees’ labor for the first week of February would also be coming from the Public Works budget, even though they worked on the Town Hall project. (Johnson’s memo did not cite a figure, but half of the $3,500 for two weeks would be $1750 for one week.)

“It’s not right,” Johnson told TownDock.net in an interview earlier this month about the bookkeeping for the Town Hall project. “If I didn’t ask for a special document called the General Ledger,” Johnson said, “I’d have never known.”

Altogether, the labor costs outlined by Johnson for work done on the Town Hall project – but billed to other departments – run up to $16,850. They are:

Project Manager: – $11,600
Public Works Employees 2 wks Jan 2013 – $ 3,500
Public Works Employees 1 wk Feb 2013 – $ 1,750

Johnson says he contested some other charges – for materials and services – that were charged to other departments. He says the Town Manager agreed to change the bookkeeping so that approximately $3,000 would be shown to have been part of the Town Hall Project.

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Posted Wednesday February 20, 2013 by Melinda Penkava

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