Minutes of the Finance Committee
December 4, 2000
In attendance: members Farley, Nash, Leclerc, Morey, Raymond, Roberts, Vogt. Also in attendance: Town Administrator Linda Sanders
Chair Vogt called meeting to order 6:55 pm.
Reserve Fund Transfer
Mr. Farley reported on his research with Ms. Sanders on FinCom concerns about the legal services budget line. He said that as a municipality, rules for hiring legal counsel are described in statute and the Board of Selectmen has authority to select attorneys for particular needs but no contractual commitment is necessary. Town has already asked counsels to bill monthly and in a timely manner, but this is not always the case.
Ms. Sanders provided spreadsheets detailing the towns legal expenditures for FY99, FY00 and FY01 (attached). She said the current need for additional funds for that line were triggered by land use and labor counsel. She had requested a $14,803 Reserve Fund transfer since these were the expenses she could definitely categorize as unforeseen expenses. This amount is the total expended to date on the suit against the town and the Zoning Board of Appeals by SBA Communications. She said the current amount in the budget line is $871.11 and she has an outstanding bill for approximately $1200. She said that this amount did not include billing for more recent legal expenditures including an additional suit by SBA.
Answering questions from FinCom Ms. Sanders said this year had produced a high use of legal counsel for employment issues so far. Although the $14,803 had actually already been spent in the budget line, this amount could definitely be attributed to external and uncontrollable demands.
There was discussion about whether the BOS had to respond to the suit and how expenses on that suit could have been kept to a minimum. Ms. Sanders said the BOS had felt it necessary to defend the suit because they were advised they would win it and in order to discourage legal action against the town in the future. She explained that SBA had filed suit against individual members of ZBA claiming SBAs constitutional rights had been denied by the ZBA ruling against their request for a permit to erect a communications tower on Greenville Road.
Mr. Farley said in looking through invoices it was clear expenses are generated in three major ways:
1. BOS (or dept head) pick up the phone to call any attorney for advice on labor, land-use, or town business.
2. Internal management problems precipitate personnel issues and department head needed legal advice.
3. External events, like this SBA suit.
FinCom then opened discussion with Ms. Sanders about how legal expenses might be reigned in for the remainder of this fiscal year. Members felt strongly that some kind of accountability was necessary, with BOS and all Committee Chairs and Department Heads required to channel all requests for legal counsel through Town Administrator or through some kind of purchase order procedure. Mr. Morey observed that FinCom had asked for written requests for legal expenditure in the past and suggested we reinstate that system.
It was agreed that legal expenses already incurred must be paid for, but generally members were not in favor of paying the entire $14,800+ requested for transfer, but rather the current outstanding amounts as they are incurred. Since the $14,800 would effectively halve the Reserve Fund, members were concerned about the remaining 7 months in this fiscal year when other unforeseen expenses would surely arise.
Ms. Sanders requested members of FinCom be put on the agenda for Dec 6 BOS meeting to explain these concerns to selectmen and ask for some kind of system to address legal spending issues. She suggested FinCom did not act on transfer request on the table until after that meeting.
A motion to postpone decision on the transfer pending discussion with BOS was passed unanimously.
Ms. Vogt agreed to attend the meeting to answer questions from BOS and Ms. Raymond and Ms. Roberts agreed to draft a summary of FinCom concerns to have ready for Ms. Vogt to review when she returned from out of town. Ms. Vogt will then write a memo to BOS incorporating these suggestions. It was felt FinCom needed BOS collaboration in seeking a solution to the specific issues with this Reserve Fund transfer as well as general issues of excessive legal spending.
Acceptance of Minutes
Minutes of 11/27/00 were accepted, unanimously.
Analysis of FY02 Budget Requests
Ms. Raymond distributed copies of first draft spreadsheets for the FY02 budgets, including trend graphs. All requests had not yet been received so it was early to look at total increases, especially since income figures were not yet available, but members agreed the work Ms. Raymond had done was instructive and useful.
Ms. Raymond asked members to e-mail their line-item notes (observations or questions) so they can be incorporated onto the spreadsheet at the appropriate place. She will add in new requests as they are submitted and members will receive fresh copies via e-mail or at the meetings. In response to questions from committee, she also suggested creating a column showing the actual amount of increase or decrease as well as percent change to all line items.
Other discussion on budget:
Ms. Vogt reminded committee about some overall issues to consider while reviewing requests, including the warning by Harald Scheid that the state now mandates that towns must stop estimating revenues conservatively with the expectation of receiving extra free cash in the following year. In essence this means that FY02 will give us a one-year windfall, but the following years will be very lean. Also, Chapter 90 funding, for highways, will be decreasing by 33% because of Big Dig expense in FY01.
Mr. Morey reported he had not had time to investigate leasing as an option for town fleet, but would look further at the AMI (?) calendar and report back. Mr. Farley is interested in looking at how efficiencies can be created by shifting the boundaries between departments such as cemeteries, parks, and highway.
Members raised some other questions regarding relevant personnel issues: Are we efficiently running the town office with services available equally where needed? How is our retention rate of appointed employees? Why does the police budget include increases in overtime wages when there are two new full time officers now on board? What will DLS Financial Management Review tell us?
Ms. Vogt reported that the Town Accountant has given notice and Town Administrator has started the process of seeking a replacement. The Accountant will work through Dec 31 and it is hoped the FY00 books can be closed out by then.
Ms. Vogt added into the FinCom minute records copies of the questions she framed to BOS on the Special Town meeting floor. The original, hand-written questions are housed in FinCom files at Town Hall.
She also asked members for direction on the FinCom report, due January 15, for the Annual Report. It will be for FY99, but she and Mr. Morey will share the report so that it includes some indication of future direction for town finances. She also requested members think about creating guidelines for BOS as they look at budget for FY01.
Ms. Vogt and Ms. Roberts and anyone else who can attend will be at BOS meeting, 12/06/00 at 7:15 to discuss Reserve Fund transfer.
FinCom Meeting 12/18/00 at 6:45 pm. Guest will be Alan Pease of the Planning Board. He wants to discuss the Mt. Watatic purchase with FinCom so PB and BOS can be fully briefed of any concerns FinCom has. Ms. Raymond noted that in addition to Ms. Vogts questions about the process, she would like to know how much it would cost town to maintain the property once town owns it.
Meeting adjourned at 9:37 pm.