With intense scrutiny over the Town and School budget this year, there has been renewed interest in the copier issue first raised in a story by the Bethel Community Gazette last fall regarding the leases of copiers in Bethel town departments.
The story focused on examples of questionable budget management and expense control by town purchasing practices that some members of the Board of Finance have described as extremely wasteful.
For example, in the formula used by the schools to evaluate bidding for lease contracts, cost of the contract is allocated 40% of the formula, resulting in non-cost criteria being given the majority of weight when deciding on lease contracts.
After the story was published, the Chair of the Bethel Economic Development Commission, Michael Boyle, sent a letter to the Board of Selectmen complaining about our coverage of the story and alleging that "the allegations made are, quite simply, false." That letter, dated October 29, 2019 was entered into the public record at a Board of Selectmen special meeting on December 26, 2019 by First Selectman Knickerbocker.
We have since sent a letter to Mr. Boyle inviting him to identify any factual errors and offering to correct any factual errors. That letter was sent in January and as of press time we have received no response and no identification of any false facts in our reporting.
To recap and update the coverage to date:
A number of Bethel departments have leases for copiers and printers from BASE Technologies, a firm run by EDC Chair Michael Boyle.
Many of the leases include minimum use requirements, obligating the Town to pay per copy fees whether the copies are actually made or not. There are additional fees in the event the Town uses more copies than the minimum required.
When reviewing the lease cost for the copier placed at the South Street Fire Station, we confirmed that the department lease came to more than 5.5 times the cost to purchase the same unit through Amazon. We also confirmed that the machine, costing the Town over $7,900 in the 5 years of the lease, only does black and white copies and includes toner but not paper. The black toner costs are estimated at $297 per year.
When reviewing one lease for the schools, we confirmed that it called for 28 high volume copiers, most with advanced collating and finishing capabilities such as stapling and hole punching, with minimum requirements of over 8 million copies per year. The lease contains a per copy fee in addition to the base lease cost. That requirement comes to over 44,000 copies per school day, and over 2,800 copies per student per year. The $598,000 lease covers 5 years and also includes toner, but not paper.
Ms. McCorkindale questioned adherence to the Town requirement that EDC Chair Boyle's relationship with BASE Technologies be disclosed when acquiring business with the town as a review of all available minutes of every Board of Selectman meeting and Board of Education meeting held since 2010 revealed no such disclosure.
Ms. McCorkindale has, through a Freedom of Information request, since been provided with a memo dated October 29, 2010 from Mr. Boyle to Mr. Knickerbocker, but no explanation as to why the document does not appear in the public record has been provided as of press time.
Ms. McCorkindale also raised the concern that the remote support software provided with the copiers provides access to printed and scanned documents, which are stored on hard drives on the copiers. Ms. McCorkindale has asked for information about how the data is secured as third party firms providing support, such as Mr. Boyle's firm, may have access to sensitive and confidential material. We have confirmed with Kyocera, the manufacturer, that their support product does allow access to printed and scanned documents unless specific steps are taken during installation or management to encrypt and lock out access to that data. Mr. Boyle has denied that BASE Technologies has access to Town and personal information from the copiers, but no supporting documentation that effective security steps have been put in place has been provided by BASE Technologies or the Town of Bethel.
Ms. McCorkindale continues to cite the copier issue as one example of why the Board of Finance needs line-item authority over the School Budget, as it has with the Town Budget, and why lease contracts should be reviewed by the Board of Finance before being approved, as capital expenses are.