Seacoast Online | Year in review: Maine Turnpike Authority gets shake-up in wake of investigation
YORK — Maine Turnpike Authority operations came under a microscope earlier this year, after former state Rep. Dawn Hill of York, now a state senator, questioned why the quasi-municipal agency was no longer giving the state its surplus funds from toll collections.
An independent Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) report released in January, and a forensic audit done later this year, revealed questionable expenditures by then MTA Executive Director Paul Violette. The audit showed Violette used nearly $500,000 in turnpike funds on gift cards, credit card charges and vacation and sick leave pay to which he wasn’t entitled, according to OPEGA.
Violette resigned in March, and by mid-December the MTA had agreed to accept $430,000 in reimbursement from Violette and its two bonding companies. The Maine Attorney General’s Office continues to investigate potential criminal charges against Violette.
Beyond justice being served, the settlement was a win for toll payers, who saw their money go back into turnpike operations. It also boosted the cause of those who view the building of a new toll plaza in York as a waste of at least $35 million and an environmental and neighborhood hazard.
Violette’s seeming inflexibility over a plan to construct a new, open-road tolling plaza similar to the one in Hampton, N.H., pitted residents and town officials against the MTA. The grassroots Think Again, the York Board of Selectmen and others favor waiting until all-electronic tolling becomes the highway standard.
New MTA Executive Director Peter Mills is making no promises, but he has met with Think Again and selectmen and is listening and studying the issue in a way residents say Violette never did.
Meanwhile there appears to be no deadline for a decision on whether to build a new York toll plaza.