Friday, January 23, 2004
Selectmen resist finance reorganization
For the third time in as many meetings, the proposed Finance Department reorganization received a less-than-enthusiastic response from the Board of Selectmen. Town Treasurer Larry Barton appeared before the Selectmen once again on January 13 with a reorganization plan for the Carlisle Finance Department. Summing it up as to where we are now, Barton sees "little or no systems integration." Key to the proposed reorganization is the establishment of the new position of Finance Director/Treasurer/Tax Collector reporting to the Town Administrator. This Finance Director would work in an advisory capacity with the Finance Committee and other independent boards and committees that deal with financial matters to provide fiscal oversight and overall coordination of Town financial matters.
Supporting the new Finance Director would be an Assistant Treasurer/Tax Collector similar to the current position except that it would be increased to a 35-hour week. Also working under the direction of the Finance Director is the 30-hour-a-week position of Town Accountant.
The position of Tax Collection Clerk remains an eight hour a week job. A new position of Human Resource/Town Accountant Assistant would be established as of January 1, 2005. This would be a part time job (less than 20 hours per week) under the direction of the Finance Director with the responsibilities of processing the payroll from time cards to check delivery, working with employees to set up benefits, administration of the benefits package including retirement, and assisting the Town Accountant.
Advantages of reorganization
Barton pointed out the many advantages of such a reorganization. Foremost is the coordination of the town financial activities. This includes greater dissemination of financial information and additional support for the Finance Committee and Long Term Capital Requirements Committee. "This frees up our Town Administrator to focus on non-financial town issues," said Barton. Under the present system, McKenzie acts as finance director in addition to all her management and supervisory responsibilities.
Board members are at odds with the proposed reorganization for two main reasons. First is the fear that it puts too much power in the hands of the Finance Director. Barton tried to alleviate that fear by emphasizing that the Accountant, Treasurer/Tax Collector and Finance Director are appointed by the Selectmen, thus giving the board overall authority. To further ease their concerns, Barton said, "The Finance Director will report periodically to an audit committee." Barton would have the Finance Director report to Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie, the primary interface to the Selectmen. Selectman Tony Allison still saw the need for better "checks and balances."
The second concern is the additional cost of the reorganization, estimated at over $35,000. Totaling the costs of the town accountant and assistant, treasurer/tax collector and assistant, tax collection clerk, and associated line items comes to $177,500 annually. Adding the Finance Director and support personnel raises the total to $212,800. "Is there some way we can recoup some of this?" asked Selectman Vivian Chaput. "Are there compensating offsets?"
At an earlier Selectmen's meeting, Lisa Jensen-Fellows, chair of the Finance Committee, came out strongly in favor of the reorganization. "The cost is reasonable to run an $18 million organization," said Jensen-Fellows. "We can't keep talking about it forever. The town deserves better." However, chair Tim Hult deferred the decision to the next meeting. Meanwhile the Selectmen will contact similar towns to see how their finance departments are organized.
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