Minutes of the Finance Committee
October 23, 2000
In attendance: members Morey, Nash, Roberts, Vogt. Also in attendance, Selectmen McCallum and Flinkstrom and Linda Sanders, Town Administrator.
Chair Vogt called meeting to order 6:50 pm.
Mr. Morey objected to calling meeting to order without a quorum, since Mr. Nash had not yet arrived. Chair Vogt stated she intended to go forward with the meeting in order to shed light on certain warrant articles. She felt that whether quorum was present or not, members of FinCom should hear what Selectmen had to say. Ms. Vogt then stated that a quorum was not necessary in order to have a meeting but felt a quorum should be present to vote. She intended to not hold any voting but directed the meeting to commence with the start of the minutes. She also suggested to Mr. Morey that should he produce in writing facts that proved his point, that meeting could not take place without a quorum, she would direct the minutes to be stricken from record. Mr. Morey continued in his objection, but was overruled by the Chair. Mr. McCallum volunteered his understanding that an open meeting could be held for informational purposes, but that the board could take no official vote without a quorum.
Mr. Nash arrived at 7:00 making discussion about a meeting without quorum temporarily moot.
Discussion of STM Draft Warrant Article 4
Chair Vogt explained she had asked BOS and Ms. Sanders to attend the meeting because she had attended their meeting and felt they had information about this article which she wanted FinCom to hear first hand.
Mr. McCallum began by saying there was clearly a problem with the accountants position in the town, with over 8-9 years having 7 accountants in the job. He and Mr. Morey then explained the personnel history of the job, which involved accountants of more and less ability, working for wages which were first cut by the town during hard times, then raised to try to bring within a reasonable part-time compensation. Several years ago, the accountants clerk position was abolished and those wages brought into the current position, which is now at $13,965.
Mr. McCallum offered comparable salary and expected work load of neighboring towns for accountants: Townsend expects 20 hours a week, plus hiring a clerk, and pays $29,000. Dunstable expects 8-10 hours a week, plus a clerk for $20,000. Mr. Morey observed that the town of Princeton, with a larger budget than Ashby, was a comparable position, offering $16,000 for 10-15 hours a week. Mr. Morey reiterated his understanding that the accountants job in Ashby has never been delineated by numbers of hours worked, but rather established on requirement of getting the job done, no matter how long that takes.
In response to questions by Ms. Roberts, Ms. Sanders said the Ashby job had been described in advertising as 12-15 hours per week, with the understanding that some weeks would be longer, some shorter, as Mr. Morey suggested. The description was meant to convey the average hours.
Mr. McCallum summarized the BOS concerns by saying, in short, that there was clearly something wrong with the way the accountants position is set up because nobody succeeds at it, or has succeeded at it since Dick Choate. He suggested that an excellent solution would be to form a consortium with other towns, similar to the one created to support the paid assessor position for Harald Scheid, so that an accountant could have a real, well-paid job, and serve several towns, thereby giving all three or four towns a higher level of competence in the job.
In response to questions, he said the BOS had requested this article; it had not been generated by the accountant. Ms. Sanders further reminded FinCom that she had not supported last years request by the current accountant for a pay raise. Ms. Sanders had then felt the accountant was too green, was not giving the town adequate hours, and did not deserve additional compensation. Ms. Sanders said things had improved dramatically since last spring, with the accountant able to be in the town offices for whole days, taking significant extra time and responsibility working to fix problems. She said the accountants position is unique in town government in that it is totally dependent on received information, so problems in other departments created havoc for the position. In Ashbys particular situation, the accountant had endured considerable difficulties, doing a lot of hand-holding and investigative work beyond the call of her job.
Ms. Vogt reiterated FinComs concern that giving this significant compensation increase in the middle of a fiscal year would set a bad precedent and create hard feelings among other town staff.
Mr. Morey repeated his strong belief that the accountants job was not dependent on a number of hours. He felt this particular accountant was inexperienced and that most of her job was merely entering data into software.
Ms. Vogt said FinCom has high hopes for the Financial Management Review by the DORs Division of Local Services, set to begin with interviews of all town financial officers on October 30. She said she felt this article had opened up discussion for reevaluating the accountants position, along with the other financial positions in town, and that perhaps BOS and FinCom could work toward changing the job in time for ATM.
Mr. McCallum said that he had come to agree with FinCom that this article was not appropriate for this STM, that the issue needed more research, and Ms. Flinkstrom said that she agreed.
Mr. Nash questioned whether, if BOS had put this article forward and now withdrew support, was it not setting up the accountant for more disgruntlement with the job? Mr. McCallum said that was a possibility, but that the accountant knew this article might not fly, for exactly the reasons FinCom had put forward. Ms. Flinkstrom also added that she felt the accountant had experienced, more than anything, a great frustration with her job and that it was hoped this commitment of BOS and FinCom to reevaluate the position would be helpful.
Other Article Business
Mr. Morey reported on his discussion with Superintendent Bill Davis about the proposed addition to Highway Department wages. He said that either retiring mechanic Andy Miller or the new mechanic should be paid as a consultant. In that way, the training expense would not be packaged as a salary and benefits payment.
Regarding Article 2, annual audit, which FinCom had already approved, Chair Vogt said BOS had asked her to research other ways of borrowing for the town, other than bonding. She said she had not had results of her phone calls about this yet, but would report at next meeting.
On Article 14, addition to the bylaws to prohibit motorized water craft on the Ashby Reservoir, Ms. Vogt reported that the Ashby police would be empowered to enforce the bylaw and that Ashby does have jurisdiction over the lake. Ms. Vogt also said she had concerns about newer landowners who had bought land on the lake not knowing the "gentlemens agreement." She felt it was important that their rights were not being violated by the new bylaw.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:50 pm.