By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — Three finance-driven residents are expected to make their voices heard when Andover’s Annual Town Meeting convenes Monday.
The trio has launched TownofAndover.com, a non-sanctioned website ruffling some feathers as it aims to mobilize taxpayers against what its founders argue is out-of-control spending.
The proponents are calling for complete transparency, and have* published 43 pages of town employee salary information to start the process.
“What we’re trying to do is, one, bring complete transparency to everything that goes on in town, in all committee meetings; two, to begin to get elected officials in town government to focus on essential spending first and non-essential spending second; and third, to begin to recognize all of the liabilities that the town incurs when they incur them,” website co-founder and past Finance Committee member Greg Rigby said.
The town budget tops the list of items coming before residents tonight. Town Meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Andover High School field house on Shawsheen Road. The warrant has 61 articles on the agenda, some slated for withdrawal, and some officials have forecast it will take three nights to get through all scheduled business.
According to TownofAndover.com, 54 percent of the town’s $157 million budget this year funds salaries, with 9 percent going to health insurance and another 4 percent going to pensions. Capital projects such as the proposed Town Yard replacement pile on top of that.
Website co-founder Bob Pokress suggested that town officials are prioritizing non-essential projects and initiatives, including efforts to buy conservation land, over much-higher needs.
“We’re already drowning in conservation projects,” he said. “I believe in conservation, but nobody is making the case that we’re running out of conservation land.”
And Bob Landry argued this is no way to run a business.
“Our pipes are bursting. Stacks of bills are piling up. We can’t pay bills. And your plan is to, what, put in a built-in swimming pool in your backyard?” Landry said. “In the private sector, you would be fired for even suggesting these capital expenditures.”
Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski, who compiles the town’s list of capital projects every year, argued that town officials and residents have had months to review the proposals and ask questions since they were announced at the end of October. He added that both his recommended budget and capital improvement plan are available on the town website.
“Citizens will ask questions or have concerns and they’ll raise it,” he said. “So in terms of the transparency issue, the information is out there for people to review.”
As for the TownofAndover website, Stapczynski said “this whole citizen website thing isn’t new.”
The site has picked up 12,000 unique visitors since going online about a month ago, Rigby said. The average person spends around 49 minutes on the site, which indicates that the site is holding their interest, he said.
The site has also spawned a parody website — VillageofAndover.com. The mock site lists its motto as “where rich people complain about their taxes.”
Yet, more than 50 people last week turned out for an organizational meeting for TownofAndover.com, Rigby said.
“One thousand or so voters is all it takes to influence great change,” Rigby said. “We won’t ever endorse a candidate. We don’t intend on running for any office. We really want to focus on information. We’re providing access to information.”
Top 10 highest-paid non-emergency employees Marinel McGrath School Superintendent $202,894.50 Reginald Stapczynski Town Manager $152,140.92 Kaija Gilmore Building Inspector $135,038.31 Rodney Smith Town Accountant $134,317.85 Paul Szymanski School Asst. Superintendent $132,300.00 Nancy Duclos School Asst. Superintendent $129,050.02 Elizabeth Roos School Principal $124,589.51 Steven Bucuzzo Asst. Town Manager $123,742.06 Elaine Shola Purchasing Agent $123,222.33 Christopher Cronin Acting Dept. of Public Works Director $122,795.93 Top 10 highest-paid public safety employees John Pathiakis Police Lieutenant $194,401.39 Brian Pattullo Police Chief $180,848.35 William Ouellette Police Lieutenant $167,009.21 Harry Collins Police Lieutenant $162,987.37 Kevin Connors Fire Deputy Chief $156,795.53 Patrick Keefe Police Sergeant $154,253.84 Charles Heseltine Police Sergeant $153,625.57 Christopher Moore Police Sergeant $153,029.22 Michael Mansfield Fire Chief $151,935.84 Albert Deldotto Fire Deputy Chief $149,986.86 Source: TownofAndover.com, as verified by Town Manager Reginald "Buzz" Stapczynski. Values reflect fiscal year 2012 gross salaries, including overtime, retroactive and "other" pay