NASHUA — During their next meeting, aldermen are expected to discuss the excessive meal purchases authorized by a former city employee and begin work on policies to prevent such spending in the future.
"The mayor has already shut off all meal purchases, so at this point we need to look at how to make improvements to policies so that this never happens again," Alderman Diane Sheehan, Ward 3, said on Monday.
Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said last week that nearly $1,500 in meals from The Sausage King were paid for with taxpayer money when a former worker authorized the purchases for Public Works crews renovating downtown sidewalks.
Brian McCarthy, president of the Board of Aldermen, confirmed on Monday that after further review, financial records indicate that throughout 2012 about $5,000 was spent on meals for the Public Works Department."We knew that the food account in Public Works was overspent by a few thousand dollars," said McCarthy. "It is certainly more than what was budgeted."
There is a meal account that consists of $1,200 for special instances when plow crews are working a large snowstorm or employees unexpectedly have to work double shifts, according to city officials.
Members of the Board of Aldermen are "very concerned" about the misuse of funds, according to McCarthy, who has discussed the matter with Lozeau and some of his fellow board members.
"There may be policy issues that we need to follow up on, and we are certainly ready to do that," he added. "In the meantime, any money spent on similar causes has been curbed."
There is no need for an emergency board meeting, said McCarthy, who expects the issue will be discussed either at the board's next full meeting in September or the next aldermanic Budget Review Committee meeting."There has been a lot of overtime on the downtown project, but that is no excuse for these expenses," McCarthy said. "We are suppose to have safeguards in place to make sure we don't overspend those accounts. I am certainly disappointed we didn't find it long before now."
Sheehan said she was planning on proposing a resolution to immediately stop all meal spending but said it isn't necessary since the mayor has already taken that action.
"I have never been a big fan of a food budget, and now this has happened. It really rubs people the wrong way," she said. "The most important thing is to shut off these line items immediately and let people know that this is not something that was condoned."
Sheehan said it is important to openly discuss the prior mishandling of meal money.
"We pay taxes too. We share the same concerns. This is not an acceptable practice," she said.
Lozeau said recently that a former city employee used poor judgement when authorizing nearly $1,500 in food purchases from The Sausage King while working on the downtown sidewalk project.
Although the former worker was not identified by Lozeau, meal receipts indicate the purchases were authorized by Roy Sorenson, the city's former superintendent of the Streets Department.
Sorenson left the city under his own terms and not because of any disciplinary action or anything else related to the meal purchases, said Lozeau.
According to city officials, an initial tab was created at The Sausage King on July 18, 2012, with four additional tabs being established each month through Nov. 28, 2012, when the last questionable purchase was made.
The Board of Public Works commissioners, according to Lozeau, are concerned and unhappy about the situation and are looking for ways to prevent this type of spending from occurring in the future.
"There is a balance, and when someone makes a mistake, we have to make sure it doesn't happen again," she said last week.