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FinCom Agrees With Goals, But Opposes Select Board’s New Committee

by Connie Sartini
 
Groton Finance Committee Chairman Bud Robertson delivered unequivocal feedback to the Select Board that the Finance Committee is unanimously opposed to the Select Board’s proposed “Major Initiative Planning Committee” charge that would create overlap and redundancy with the Finance Committee regarding the operating budget responsibilities.
     What originally started out several years ago as an idea to create a Capital Planning Committee, ultimately morphed into this proposed entity that not only would look at capital planning, but every other aspect of municipal budgeting. This was an effort by the Board to do longer term planning in order to avoid surprise projects and expenses.
     The new committee charge also set a base of $30,000 in the operational budget, whereby anything over that amount would fall under this new committee.
     Robertson said that when the Finance Committee reviewed the Major Initiative Charge, “We asked ourselves what is the charge trying to accomplish? What are we trying to solve? There are surprise elements that happen; they just come up. And we need to look into the future.”
     Robertson stressed that, “The Capital Planning Process is completely different from the budgeting process. We (FinCom) have added a new page to the Finance Committee budget process, the “New Initiative” page that will capture any plans for additions operational spending for the next five years. When the Town Manager sends out the budget packet to Department Heads, they will fill it out because only they know what they are going need.”
     He added that the New Initiatives in the operating budget can then be prioritized and charted. “People who understand the numbers exist today. The point is we have a process today that will better pick up what the departments do.”
     In terms of the Capital Planning process, Robertson said there needs to be an inventory of municipal buildings and their maintenance needs for the future, and an inventory of town-owned vehicles, and replacement plans. “This is what the Capital Planning Committee was originally going to do.”
     He recommended, “Let’s pick up under the original Capital Planning Committee charge that would appoint individuals with backgrounds in contracting, and building. It should be focused on buildings with people that have these skill sets.”
     Select Board Chairman Alison Manugian pointed out that this was dealing with taxpayers’ money and that there needs “to be some entity looking at all the demands. Capital and expenditure sounds like silos.”
     Robertson responded that there are two separate areas, the operating budget and the five- year plan. Capital projects take a different track because those items are a “big hit” for the town. “We need the capital plan to come together at the top.” He added that the Town Manager, the Finance Committee and the Finance Team should look at merging these areas.
     Select Board member Becky Pine said, “I do not want to see any change in the Committee. Any addition of service or personnel has a huge benefit when more people are analyzing it. I do not see the need to change.”
     Robertson asked, “There is a layer of overhead that you are adding in for what purpose?.... It is a waste of effort to have another committee do the same thing. I agree with the Capital Planning Committee. It is not for them to decide where to put personnel. It is the job of the Town Manager, the Finance Committee and the Select Board.”
     Robertson stressed, “The Finance Committee voted 6 to 0 against this new committee charge. The Capital Planning is okay. I don’t see any value on the operating side. We have a process in place to get this going.”
     FinCom member Art Prest advised that an appointed five- member committee would likely not have the expertise in both Capital Planning and Operational Budgets. “It’s another layer of bureaucracy on top of what already exists. We definitely need a Capital Plan. Let the Finance Committee deal with the operating side.”
     Resident Anna Eliot suggested diversity on this potential committee including a member of the FinCom, the School District, Public Safety and Housing, noting that this represents the diverse needs of the town. She pointed to past successes where this type of structure was used.
     Select Board member john Giger stated, “I am solidly where Bud and the FinCom are. If you add the operational budget to this, you don’t need the Finance Committee. I like the tweaking that the Finance committee came up with. I cannot support this Major Initiative.               Planning Selectman Josh Degen said he liked the idea of a “separate set of eyes and ears on both the buildings and the financials.” He added that the $30K figure was for evaluation of service enhancements. “We set a goal for a major planning committee and I don’t know how it hurts to move forward. I am sick and tired of surprises.”
     Colleague John Reilly said he didn’t think it was wise to turn over the operational budget to another committee, but that it makes sense to have a Capital Planning Committee.
     Giger said that both “Becky and Josh said there are no downsides to doing this. I don’t see any upside. How about we deal with the Capital Planning. We have a finite number of days to do the budget. I don’t see the upside of putting a committee in the middle of the budget. Let’s just address the Capital major expenditures.
     Following more lengthy discussion, the Major Initiative Planning Advisory Committee proposal was defeated by the Select Board on a voted 3 (Manugian, Giger, Reilly) to 2 (Pine, Degen) vote.
     Chairman Manugian advised that she wanted to take the new information and work with the Finance Committee and Town Manager and bring it back. She stressed, “I had not heard that the Finance Committee added a process and I am willing to give it a shot.”
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