Friday, December 3, 2004
Usual FinCom problem: expanding needs, expanding costs
Concerns about the need to expand work hours of town personnel occupied the Carlisle Finance Committee's November 29 meeting. As the FinCom gears up for its annual budget hearings, the balance between controlling costs and providing services was illustrated by the concerns of the Town Clerk and the chair of the Recreation Commission.
Town Clerk needs more hours
Town Clerk Charlene Hinton explained to the committee that although her position is funded on the basis of a twenty-hour week, her duties extend far beyond her formal office hours of 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Hinton estimated that she spends between 32 and 42 hours per week attending to a wide range of duties. She often takes work home with her, Hilton explained, but if she is not available in Town Hall in the afternoon, walk-in traffic seeks answers from other Town Hall staff. As Larry Barton, the town's Finance Director, said, this not only takes time from other functions, but "we cannot, by statute, service these customers." The solution, both Hinton and Barton agreed, would be to expand the office hours of the Town Clerk to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and increase the budget to make the Town Clerk a full-time position.
Who pays the Recreation Director?
Maureen Tarca's problem is a little different. The chair of the Recreation Committee explained that five years ago the town voted to create the position of Recreation Director, but only funded it as a part-time position. As long as Recreation Director Cindy Nock was mostly affiliated with recreational programs, she was eligible to be paid from the Recreation Department's "53D" account. This revolving fund is designed to cover program-related expenses, including instructors, but not full-time employees. Nock is responsible for preparing the commission's financial statements, collecting revenue and paying bills, and managing programs. If this position becomes full-time, how will the Recreation Director be paid? As FinCom member Jim Fitzimmons said, "53D funds programs, but not someone to administer them."
The Committee tossed around suggestions for revenue enhancement, such as charging a fee for field use or issuing parking stickers, but acknowledged that the expense was likely to move from the RecCom's revolving fund to the town's General Fund. FinCom chair David Trask asked member Ray Wilkes to work with the RecCom to address the issue.
The twin dilemmas of the Town Clerk and the Recreation Director highlight the responsibility of the town's Personnel Board to properly evaluate the expectations of all positions and to set the salaries appropriately. FinCom member Sue Wolfe suggested that the Personnel Board recruit members with experience in human resources.
Quarterly tax bills?
As the FinCom continued its initial departmental review, it learned that Finance Director Barton was considering quarterly tax billing, instead of the current semi-annual cycle. Barton said that this move would improve cash flow and potentially eliminate the town's need for short-term borrowing.
GIS: "a big solution looking for a problem..."
David Trask closed the meeting with some words of caution about Massachusetts' Geographic Information System (GIS) initiative, which was launched by then-Governor Paul Cellucci in January 2000 by Executive Order 418. In Trask's words, "GIS is a big solution looking for a problem to be solved." Trask's concern is that various town departments and committees were spending money on GIS without a master plan in place to define the overall objectives of GIS and a roadmap to accomplish these.
Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie told the FinCom that the town had committed $25,000 to accomplish certain specific near-term objectives, such as using GIS to prepare the town's Open Space and Recreation (OS&R) plan. Barton added that "GIS will touch more departments than anything else", including the Conservation Committee, the Board of Assessors, the Library, and the Police and Fire Departments. Some of the benefits are clear, McKenzie explained, such as mapping all the town's water cisterns for the Fire Department. However, she acknowledged Trask's point, and indicated that the town was looking to form a Technology Committee to address the GIS issue at all levelshardware, software, in the Library, in the town schools, and in the various government departments.
In subsequent FinCom meetings, Trask advised his fellow members, the FinCom will be tasked with aggregating all these incremental expendituresfrom Town Clerk to GISand proposing a way to accommodate the increased costs within the town budget guidelines.
© 2004 The