On behalf of the Board of Selectmen, Selectman John Waterman approached the Marion Finance Committee on May 8 with a draft document that the board hopes will set concrete expectations of what the selectmen should expect of the Finance Committee, and invited the FinCom to reciprocate with a similar document to set out its own expectations of the selectmen.
Waterman said he would welcome feedback on the draft document, and started with one of the points from the draft document from the board, a request that the Finance Committee perform a budget assessment in July or August for a line item review with each of the Town departments.
“We never go back and look at how they’re spending more,” Waterman said, which could be a chance for the Town to try to find areas in which departments could save money. “We (the selectmen) have no time to dig in [and] question the department heads.”
“In prior years, John, that was routine practice,” said Finance Committee member Alan Minard. However, typically, the committee would start in early January, which would give the committee six months of data to review.
“If they think someone’s paying attention, then they pay attention,” said Waterman. For instance, Waterman suggested department heads who use Town-owned vehicles to take home might “take it for granted.” Furthermore, should the Town outsource its trash collection, the selectmen want to ensure that the savings is, in fact, achieved.
“I don’t want the savings to disappear into the black hole of more spending just because they have the money,” Waterman said specifically of the Department of Public Works.
Waterman urged the committee not to feel as though it is “overstepping” its authority in this request.
“You’re providing a service to us (the selectmen),” said Waterman. “They (department heads) need to know we’re looking.”
“John, for years we have done the budget … and presented it to the [Board of Selectmen],” said Minard. “We did all of the things that are on [this draft document]. … You can’t have it as the selectmen do the budget and we do the work; it’s got to be the other way around.”
“We’re on the same team,” said Waterman. “We’re trying to get to the same place.”
“I think that’s great,” commented FinCom member Margie Baldwin.
Waterman reminded the committee that the document is still only a draft and asked the members to review it.
“And you’re welcome to share one with us about what you’d like from us,” said Waterman.
After Waterman left, the committee continued the conversation about the document and the strained relationship between the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen over the past few months.
“What he (Waterman) doesn’t comprehend is that we’re not in the management structure in this town,” said Minard. “Our only power, really, is to recommend for or against the certain articles. So, for us to get involved in telling the DPW that he didn’t … save enough money, I don’t think is right.”
“There’s no oversight of that,” said Baldwin. “Nobody’s looking at that.”
“And we don’t want to take it on, trust me,” said Minard. “You have a [new] town administrator (Jay McGrail) … who is really on the ball and wants to get stuff done and you have a management structure of department heads that report to him. The broken part of this thing was [the department heads] weren’t getting any direction.”
Minard said he has been on the Finance Committee overseeing 14 budget seasons and it was always the Finance Committee who would draft the budget and present it to the Board of Selectmen.
“Until this year,” Minard said. “We didn’t see the budget until it had been presented to the selectmen this year.
“After 14 years, I’m throwing in the towel after the town meeting,” Minard continued. “So, I will happily provide any history or connect the dots on whatever else, if you run into stuff. …
“I’m gonna pick up my tarp and move out of town,” Minard said.
“I hope you’ll reconsider,” said Finance Committee Chairman Peter Winters. “I’ve learned a lot from you, Alan.”
“The process of the budget this year lost the Finance Committee support,” said Minard. “The budget, the way it was approached this year, I don’t think we even really gotta look at it – I know we didn’t get a look at it.”
Minard said he did not get a copy of the budget two weeks after the selectmen reviewed it.
“We think, and we hope, that it’s a new ballgame,” said Baldwin, alluding to the new town administrator, Jay McGrail.
“Yes,” said Minard. He paused to consider why the selectmen handled the budget process differently this year, wondering if it was the Finance Committee’s refusal to make the $13,000 Reserve Fund transfer to fund retiring Town Administrator Paul Dawson’s salary increase when the selectmen requested it. “It’s pretty much … history repeats itself,” said Minard.
Baldwin started her comment, “Relationships have …”
“… deteriorated,” said another FinCom member finishing Baldwin’s sentence for her.
“Up until this year we never saw a town manager … at any of our meetings,” said Winters.
“A couple times,” said Minard. “He’d show up to talk about his department. …
“We can recommend, but we can’t manage,” said Minard.
The next meeting of the Marion Finance Committee will be the night of Town Meeting, but there is no post-town meeting regularly scheduled meeting at this time.
Marion Finance Committee
By Jean Perry