By: Tom Duggan – March, 2011
Last month North Andover Selectman Rick Nardella called into the Paying Attention! radio program with Tom Duggan on WHAV.NET to discuss his campaign for reelectoin on the board. He faces two challengers Joe E. Smith and Don Stewart, (and one incumbent): Tracy Watson .Two will get elected on March 29th.
Duggan: You are in your first term right?
Nardella: I’m at the end of my first three-year term
Duggan: Were you able to accomplish what you thought you would when you first ran?
Nardella: I’m surprised I accomplished as much as I did. But, municipal government is like turning one of those big oil tankers. It takes such a long time to turn it around and get it going in another direction. There are so many processes, systems, policies and procedures that have been ingrained for years. And when you look at it with a different set of eyes and say “maybe we can do better?” You constantly get the comment “well that’s the way we’ve always done it… That’s not the way we do it that way in North Andover.” And so, to change that mindset takes quite a bit.
Duggan: Give us, in your words, three things you have done that you are proud of as a Selectman.
Nardella: Number one, when I got on the board, in the first few meetings I formed an audit committee. When I first got elected North Andover didn’t have a functioning audit committee. The numbers were prepared, and they were sanctioned by the outside auditors, But, nobody ever really looked at what was in it or what those numbers represented.
The audit report usually comes with a management letter where they noted in North Andover’s case: we started with 24 items that we needed to look at. We didn’t reconcile back accounts in a timely manner. We had bond monies… $3.5 million sitting in an account that wasn’t reconciled, and by the way I think a lot of that money is due back to the town. But it’s going to take a process to get them back. We have 24 bank accounts. We renegotiated bond rates. I fought for two years and we now have a master facilities planning committee. This is the first time in the many years that we are really going to take a look at all the land and buildings in town and [figure out] where are we going to go in the future. I chair that committee and we got $150,000 at last years town meeting. I chair the audit committee and I’ve done a lot of work changing policies and procedures.
As you recall we had the Lydick affair, the procurement director who misused North Andover funds. He is serving time in jail, his name was Joseph Lydick. So I think I have brought a lot of fiscal responsibility to the board. I am an accountant by trade. Over the last 8 years I have been a forensic accountant and bringing that to North Andover has been my strongest suit.
Paul: What do you think is North Andover’s biggest problem today?
Nardella: Certainly at the 5,000 foot level, it’s revenues. Now, the town manager just put out his proposed budget and the school committee is looking for 1,800,000 increase. The town manager is looking for a $350,000 decrease from what they got last year. So the declining revenues coming from the state and the declining revenues coming from the town is the biggest problem there just isn’t enough to go around.
Paul: Would this result in Layoffs
Nardella: No. We’ll do everything we can, short of laying off. If I told you the fire department had the same number of men that’ we’ve had many years ago before all this growth you’d start to understand. The police have four cruisers on the road at all times and we need to maintain that. But the problem isn’t numbers of people it’s compensation. Recently the school committee agreed to a contract with the North Andover Teachers that gave them a 14% gross increase. They did give us back some money in health care but we just can’t sustain those kind of increases. Nurses were brought up to the level of teachers, which is more than a 14% increase over the next three years as well. But the police have been held to about 2 ½ %, the firemen to 5.5%. But it’s the rate of increase of salaries and the pension and medical insurance payments called ‘OPEB’. It’s strangling every city and town not just North Andover.
Paul: Even with 2 ½% and 5 ½ % increases over the years, how are the numbers going to match up to the deficit you are predicting?
Nardella: Each year we do have some growth, and built into every contract … even if there’s no cost of living increases … the school teachers for example have steps. They go by a certain percentage every year it’s built in. The additional revenues that the town gets through tax increases or new growth it’s just a question of whether we can stay in accordance with the increases.
Duggan: Last year the city of Lawrence didn’t inform the town about the raw sewage going into the Shawsheen. Has the communication been better since then?
Nardella: The ongoing relationship between Lawrence and North Andover is always of concern. You know that lately they laid off ‘x’ number of firemen, and so whenever there was a major alarm North Andover was one of the first responders. We would have to send our trucks into Lawrence to fight their fires. That’s a pretty good way to keep some of your budget increases down. You lay off your public safety officials and just get them from the next town. Our number of calls to Lawrence have doubles in the first six months of the fiscal year in last years whole 12 month period. So, yes we have had ongoing discussions with Lawrence, but I can’t say that forthrightly that I know what the status is with that sewage issues. I can say they did ultimately send us something informing us formally, but it had been going on for months before we got the letter. We actually found out about that issue in The Valley Patriot and I thank you for that.
Duggan: Can you talk about some of the new businesses that are and have been coming into downtown.
Nardella: Sure it’s exciting! The Messina’s need a lot of credit for investing so much money in their little strip mall. They took on a great deal of costs and a great deal of risks when the economy was down in the dumps but now it’s starting to come back. We’ve got the new Converse, the new wine shop, new restaurants like the new Bistro on Sutton Street. People are coming to North Andover they want to be in North Andover. We treat our merchants’ fairly we don’t try to gauge them we are doing the best we can to keep our costs down. I think that’s the key to making North Andover affordable a good place to live and keeping or property values high. We can’t spend money we don’t have. Look at surrounding communities. They are laying people off we haven’t had to do that.