HANSON — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, Aug. 10 voted to permit department heads to access town debit cards to make purchases for the town, requested by Fire Chief Jerome Thompson Jr.
The cards would carry a $5,000 limit and so far have been authorized for Thompson, the police chief, highway director and interim town administrator.
Selectmen’s Administrative Assistant Greer Getzen said a lot of times computer subscriptions must be paid up-front. Interim Town Administrator Lisa Green added that, in many cases it is the only way software companies will accept payment.
A “check-in” after three months will be provided to Selectmen on how the program is going and how cards are being used.
Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer said that Thompson told him in a telephone conversation that department heads have had store cards in the past, which permitted them to make needed purchases, but a lot of retail chains are no longer using that type of card.
“This is more for emergency purchases,” Dyer said. “Sometimes they have to run over to Shaw’s and get more gloves, or whatever, until the next order comes.”
He said Thompson told him that at times the Highway Department would borrow the card used in the past to make purchases they needed.
“It might be a good practice now just to have it, seeing that a lot of the stores are no longer allowing the store cards to be set up,” he said. “But it’s one of these things where it’s only the department heads that could use them and we should have a policy in place [for proper use].”
Dyer stresses that provision should not be a reflection on department heads, but is basically good management.
Green said Thompson had updated the request to include some non-emergency purchases.
“There will be a limit on the card and would be monitored by the Town Accountant and Treasurer/Collector,” she said. “The police have also put in for a similar debit card.”
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett asked if the board could expect other departments to be making the same request down the road.
“Are we setting some type of weird precedence here?” she asked. “I recognize Jerry’s going to need stuff and I don’t want him or his guys having to pay out of pocket or somebody having to put it on their personal credit card and get reimbursed. That’s not the way we should be rolling.”
Green said Police Chief Michael Miksch has told her that he pays for a Go Daddy website on his personal card.
“I’m going to bring each request to the board, Treasurer/Collector and Town Accountant and get their thoughts on each request,” Green said. “I thought it’s the will of the board to decide on this request.”
Green said the Treasurer/Collector has already begun talking to banks about setting up the cards.
Selectman Jim Hickey, while noting that department heads do know best what their needs are, asked how many cards would be set up, or would it be just one card used by all department heads with Green holding the card and overseeing the use of it.
“What if it’s an emergency at night or something?” FitzGerald-Kemmett asked.
“I disagree,” Selectman Kenny Mitchell said in response to Hickey’s suggestion. “That’s just a pain. … I think we have trustworthy department heads that handle their budget and giving them a card is a convenience. They’re not buying personal stuff, they’re buying something for their departments.”
Hickey said he understood that as Mitchell continued.
“If we don’t trust our department heads with a credit card, then we’ve got bigger issues,” Mitchell said.
FitzGerald-Kemmett, while stressing she trusts the department heads, the $5,000 figure did catch her a little off guard and that there should be checks and balances.
Dyer suggested that, if the card is used, the receipt and a purchase order form be handed in the next business day for the financial team to initial off on.
Mitchell said he knows that Chief Miksch puts departmental purchases on his personal credit card, and reimbursements do not include the sales tax, because towns are exempt from sales tax while individual citizens are not.