Mechanic Falls residents have a limit as to how much salt and sand they can take per winter storm. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

MECHANIC FALLS — For 20 years, Town Council Vice Chairman Wayne Hackett has bought salt and sand from the town by the bucket loader full and used it at his rental properties.

He’s gotten it for a steep discount — so steep that last winter he paid 40% less for it than Mechanic Falls’ own public school system.

“How is that not a conflict of interest or a direct profit from his seat on the council? Nobody else in the town can buy it,” said Jim Vadeboncoeur, a property owner who learned about the purchases from an email he obtained through a Maine Freedom of Access Act request.

Hackett, who has long been involved in local politics and recently survived a recall effort, said he always had approval from past town managers to buy the salt and sand at that price, and he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. He said he will stop.

“I don’t know what the problem is, but I’m not going to buy anymore,” he said. “I’m not going to have anything to do with my name being in the paper every friggin’ week. I’m a businessman in town and it’s just crazy. I can’t have this.”

He recently paid the town another $40 to bring his last winter’s salt and sand purchase up to $10 a yard, matching the price the school system paid.

Mechanic Falls has no formal policy regarding its salt and sand. Historically, the town has let residents take a little from the pile located next to the town office so they could sprinkle the mix across their own slippery driveways, steps and walkways. Currently, residents can take salt and sand for free, but they are limited to a few 5-gallon buckets per storm and they must show a transfer station sticker or other proof of residency.

Like most towns, Mechanic Falls limit the salt and sand they give out-of-town residents. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Lisa Prevost, the town’s finance director, said Mechanic Falls is not in the business of selling off its mix in bulk.

“I’m sure a lot of folks would like to buy salt and sand, but we are not a retail establishment, obviously. We’re a town, we purchase that sand and salt to take care of the town’s needs,” said Prevost, who has worked for the town for 25 years. “Commercial operations really should be purchasing their own sand for their own use … and if we are selling stuff like that, we should be collecting sales tax and the like, as far as the state is concerned. It’s not a habit that we like to get into, selling that kind of thing to private citizens.”

Over the years, there have been two sales exceptions.

One has been Regional School Unit 16, which includes Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls. It buys salt and sand from Mechanic Falls. Sometimes the town delivers; sometimes the school system picks it up. Either way, RSU 16 pays the town $10 per yard — essentially at cost, Prevost said, when factoring in the price the town pays for salt and sand plus the labor and equipment needed to put it up and mix it.

“The RSU, obviously, is not-for-profit and we’re not trying to make money off of them,” Prevost said.

The other exception is Hackett.

For the past 20 years, he said, he’s picked up a load of salt and sand from the town pile whenever he’s needed it, between six and 13 times each winter. He said his small tractor with a buck loader holds one yard of sand and he keeps track of what he takes by jotting it down on a piece of paper. At the end of the season, he pays the town for what he took.

In years past, Hackett said, he’s paid around $5 a yard. He said he always went through Mechanic Falls town managers, who told him what to pay.

“I don’t guess at it,” Hackett said.

Town receipts since 2016 show Hackett sometimes paid as a private citizen and other times paid under his business, Mechanic Falls Auto Repair, which is located near the town office.

Last winter, Hackett paid $6 a yard, 40% less than the school system. That payment — $66 for 11 yards — was made in June, days after Hackett and other town councilors voted to fire their town manager of less than a year.

With no town manager to tell him what to pay, Hackett said he paid what he thought the price would be.

“I paid six bucks a yard thinking that was more than enough,” he said.

Prevost emailed Hackett that same day to thank him for his payment but also to point out that RSU 16 had paid $10 a yard and she did not know how much his bucket loader could hold. Hackett said Prevost used an old email address for him and he never got it.

Vadeboncoeur, a vocal opponent of Hackett’s, recently discovered the email as part of a larger FOAA request.

“That kind of struck me as a little bit odd,” he said.

Vadeboncoeur said he hadn’t planned to do anything with the email, but then Hackett failed to show up for a training session for councilors with the Maine Municipal Association on Oct. 15. That training, on roles and responsibility, was set to take place before the council took up resolutions regarding transparency, conflict of interest and notice of personal gain for elected town officials. Hackett had publicly voted for the training, but he was the only councilor not to attend.

“I said, ‘You know what, I’ve had enough,'” Vadeboncoeur said.

A dirt road runs from behind Mechanic Falls Auto Repair & Sales, far left, owned by Wayne Hackett, over to the Mechanic Falls Town Office, right, and the town’s sand and salt supply. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

He posted a copy of the email on the Facebook group “Mechanic Falls Citizens/Tax Payers Engaged.” He also shared a copy with the Sun Journal.

“My brother-in-law is a commercial plower-sander. I know that these guys pay anywhere between $30 and $50 a yard for their sand,” he said.

A Sun Journal survey found salt and sand mix retailed in the area for $30 to $99 per yard for pick up, depending on the company and the mix. Hackett paid $6 a yard.

Vadeboncoeur, who renovates and sells houses in town, said he called the Mechanic Falls Town Office and asked how much he could buy the town’s salt and sand for. He said he was told he couldn’t.

Vadeboncoeur called Hackett’s low-priced purchase of salt and sand from Mechanic Falls “a blatant misuse of his office.”

“I want to see him resign. That’s what he needs to do,” Vadeboncoeur said.

Town Manager Zakk Maher, who was reinstated two months after the council voted to fire him, said he has received no formal complaints about Hackett’s salt and sand purchases. He said he has been told people are expressing some unhappiness on Facebook.

Hackett said he didn’t know there was a problem until the Sun Journal contacted him about Vadeboncoeur’s criticism and the June email from Prevost. He quickly paid the town another $40, bringing his last winter cost up to $10 a yard and matching the school system. He did not pay additional money for any previous years, which he paid at $5 a yard.

Hackett said he needs salt and sand for his seven rental properties, but he’s done buying it from the town.

“I’ll just go get it for free out of the piles (the town) puts out there, along with my residents in the trailer park. I’ll have them go over and get their three buckets. I’ll do it for free now,” he said. “I won’t pay the town anymore if this is such a big deal.”


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