WILMINGTON, MA — The Wilmington Board of Selectmen recently receive a presentation from Rick Kingsley, of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Collins Center for Public Management, after her reviewed the town’s financial management structure.
The review was brought about by the forthcoming retirement of the entire Town’s Accountant’s Office, including Town Accountant Mike Morris.
“Your financial structure was largely set up in your Town Manager Act, which was adopted in 1950,” Kingsley told the board. “It’s been almost 70 years since it’s been looked at in a detailed way.”
During his review, Kingsley interviewed the department heads and staff members in each financial office, plus the town’s IT director. He also reviewed various documents provided by each office. He ultimately came up with several recommendations, chief among them — to create a Finance Director/Town Accountant position.
Kingsley recommends elevating the Town Accountant’s position to that of the Finance Director/Town Accountant. The new position would oversee both the Treasurer/Collector’s office and Assessors’ office. The position would be responsible for the Town’s financial planning and operations, serving as the Town Manager’s right-hand person in creating and overseeing the town’s annual budget.
Kingsley described several benefits that the new position would bring about. A Finance Director would create a focal point for finance and reduce the number of direct reports to the Town Manager. The Director would facilitate the formation of a financial team. The position would coordinate critical fiscal operations such as tax rate setting and tax billing. The Director would ensure regular cash reconciliations and other sound financial controls. The would assess risk regularly to determine town vulnerabilities.
Importantly, Kingsley also noted that finding a qualified Finance Director/Town Accountant is much easier that finding a standalone Town Accountant.
“The labor market for accountants is highly competitive with a shortage of well-qualified accounting professionals,” explained Kingsley. “By enhancing the scope and authority of the position, you make the job more attractive, as does raising the compensation to $100,000-$125,000.”
Kingsley noted that 7 of the 10 comparable towns near Wilmington already have a Finance Director position.
Rather than amend the Town Charter, which would require a town vote and legislature approval, Town Manager Jeff Hull is recommending that Selectmen make a policy change, despite the fact that the approach has less permanency as future boards could easily change the position back.
“It’s the suggested route because the process of hiring Mike [Morris’s] replacement is going to take place over the next few months,” said Hull. “There needs to be some measure of certainty which position that person will serve. They are two distinct roles and responsibilities, and targeting two different types of people with different skill sets.”
“I would like board to consider the prospects of taking a vote to revise the town accountant position and to create a finance director/town accountant position at your next meeting,” added Hull. “As the position gets advertised, we can be clear what it is the town is seeking.”
Selectmen asked for recommendations from the town’s Finance Committee and Town Accountant Mike Morris before taking an any vote.
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