Hatfield treasurer resigns amid financial turmoil

  • Hatfield Town Hall KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Monday, February 12, 2018

HATFIELD — With the town struggling to get its financial house in order, Treasurer and Collector Laura Lee Bertram submitted her resignation on Monday.

Town Clerk Lydia Syzch confirmed Bertram’s resignation. On Friday she will leave the positions to which she was first elected in 2015.

Bertram was also the subject of a recall petition that had begun to circulate in town. The recall petition would have needed signatures from 10 percent of registered voters to trigger an election.

Efforts to reach Bertram on Monday were unsuccessful. In December, she was a finalist for the position of town administrator in Otis.

The Select Board and Finance Committee will meet Tuesday, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Memorial Hall, to discuss how to handle Bertram’s departure, including whether to hire a temporary replacement, whether to ask residents to make both positions appointed at annual Town Meeting and whether to place both positions on the May 15 town election ballot.

Select Board Chairman Brian Moriarty said Monday that he intends to advocate for the immediate hiring of an individual or company that would handle Hatfield’s finances through the town election.

“I would like to see us, for the short term, outsource to keep the flow of work going,” Moriarty said

Bertram’s resignation comes as the town’s financial practices are persistently identified as problematic, including in a recent audit given to the Select Board in August.

Certified public accountants Roselli, Clark & Associates, of Woburn, cite pre-existing problems that were included in reports issued in 2013 and 2015, but also noted that “many aspects of the financial operations continue to operate at an unacceptable level.”

Among the problems are that bank reconciliations between the collector’s office and accountant’s office are not being done in a timely fashion, ledgers are being misbooked, cash books do not have proper entries and both offices are overwhelmed by their workloads.

Last month, voters at a special Town Meeting agreed to plug a $315,000 gap in the town’s 2018 and 2017 budgets by transferring money from stabilization accounts and making cuts to the current year’s budget.

Troubles are continuing even though fiscal 2017 was the beginning of the second year with a new financial team in place, which included Bertram and Derek Geser, the appointed accountant.

The collector’s and treasurer’s office has already been getting extra help, including working with a private consultant, Baystate Municipal Accounting Group of Maynard, with the aim of catching up on records from previous fiscal years.

While the positions may be on the ballot, Moriarty added that it may be preferable to have a warrant article seeking to change both to appointed positions. While such a change has failed in the past, Moriarty said the state’s Department of Revenue’s Division of Local Services has recommended this as a way to improve the town’s financial records.

If the positions are on the ballot, residents will have until March 27 to submit nomination forms with the signatures of 20 registered voters. Szych said a candidate would need to get that many signatures for both positions.

Bertram faced controversy when first elected after her opponent, William J. Sicard, challenged her residency status, claiming that she was still living in Blandford.

But the town clerk at the time confirmed that an address in Hatfield was her primary residence.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.