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Alexandria officials grilled by residents at fiery town board meeting

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ALEXANDRIA BAY — Alexandria Town Councilman Alcid E. Beaudin Jr. stormed out of a contentious board meeting Wednesday night where angry residents confronted board members over costly health benefits for officials and a critical state audit.

“Comments are supposed to be three minutes. You’ve been bellyaching for an hour and a half,” Mr. Beaudin said, interrupting a speaker as he left the board room. “See ya.”

He left as members of the audience started pressuring the Town Council to drop costly health benefits for past and present council members — a controversial issue that has left the council divided.

Councilmen Beaudin and Douglas G. Williams have stated that they believe the town should continue to offer health insurance to board members, while town Supervisor Dale D. Hunneyman and Councilman Brent H. Sweet argue that the town simply cannot afford to hang on to the costly program.

The town covers 90 percent of the cost of health insurance for council members. The town also is providing lifetime health and dental insurance coverage for former Supervisor F. Sampie Sutton and past code enforcement officer Stanley J. Parker, a longtime friend and former employer of Mr. Sutton.

About two dozen residents attended Wednesday’s meeting, some arguing that the town is going to go bankrupt over the health care benefits, which some estimate are costing taxpayers up to $26,500 per board member, depending on the plan.

Under Mr. Sutton’s leadership, the town board in 2001 passed a resolution granting health and dental insurance for retired employees, elected officials and their families after 10 years of service.

This resolution was updated in 2009, raising the requirement to a minimum of 20 years of service, but the Town Council in 2011 passed another resolution exempting Mr. Sutton and Mr. Parker from the 2009 law.

Town resident Daniel B. Peterson — who alone spent more than an hour asking the board several questions regarding various issues, prompting Mr. Beaudin to leave — also demanded clarification of several rumors surrounding the findings of a recent state audit.

After reviewing town records from Jan. 1, 2011, through May 31, 2012, state auditors found that former Supervisor Martha M. Millet wrote several checks to herself without the Town Council’s knowledge.

Alexandria in 2012 started requiring a second signature, from the town clerk, on checks so the town supervisor cannot pay claims without the council’s review.

When audience members asked Wednesday night whether records were deliberately destroyed by Ms. Millet after she lost the November 2011 election, Mr. Hunneyman said that he did not see it happen but that “very few” records were left for him when he took office.

Town Clerk Ellen S. Peck confirmed that Ms. Millet had a document shredder but said she does not know what the former supervisor did in her office.

“What she did in her office was her business,” Mrs. Peck said.

Ms. Millet has denied wrongdoing, insisting that the council was provided with records.

Auditors with the state comptroller’s office also found that an estimated 4,500 gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel from the town Highway Department — valued at about $14,600 — went unaccounted for during a seven-month period in 2011.

“The highway superintendent did not ensure the town’s fuel supplies were adequately safeguarded and accounted for,” the audit report said.

Highway Superintendent David H. Bain, however, suggested that the gap was created by auditors who would not accept handwritten records.

“There was no fuel missing,” Mr. Bain said. “We could not prove in black and white in documentation to their liking.”

The fuel reserve gauging system had been left broken for several years until it was finally fixed last October.

Now, the town uses a computerized fuel dispensing system that accounts for all fuel use.

Calling for more transparency and accountability in town government, some residents at Wednesday’s meeting also asked town officials to hire an accountant for a forensic audit to determine whether people were stealing fuel and tax money from Alexandria.

Mr. Hunneyman said the town is waiting for the state attorney general’s office to respond to a request for an investigation into these matters.

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