WHITMAN — The Override Evaluation Committee on Monday, Aug. 26, will be working with retired Duxbury Finance Director John Madden to review current town finances and plan for the future.
Madden, who started in Hingham before working in Plymouth for 17 years before moving on to Duxbury for 12 years, has 31 years of municipal finance experience. He has also worked in the private sector on converting accounting systems for cities and towns across the Commonwealth. He is currently education coordinator for the Mass. Municipal Auditors and Accountants’ Association, which he has also served as president.
He expects to provide a progress report to the town in a couple weeks. In the meantime, the School Committee has also contracted with the Mass. Association of Regional Schools (MARS) to conduct a review of the school district’s finances including minimum local funding of the towns.
“You guys are my primary focus,” Madden said after outlining past work he has done for the town of Rockland, as well as recurring work in Uxbridge, Woburn and Mansfield. “Budgeting had been the greatest aspect of being finance director. That, and forecasting and projecting — I just love that.”
Madden said when he started in Duxbury the town had been using nearly $1.9 million in free cash to balance the budget.
“Once you begin to use free cash for ongoing expenses, then it’s no longer considered free cash,” Madden said. “Eventually, you run out of free cash and the tenor of conversations generally changes.”
He said he has spoken to Finance Committee member Scott Lambiase about what the Override Evaluation Committee is looking into and that he can bring perspective to the process.
Madden said he anticipates working closely with Town Administrator Frank Lynam and in talking with the town accountant and, potentially, the building inspector, assessor, “and anybody else you want me to talk to.”
“I’d be comfortable going back about six years to see changes … just to get a look back,” he said. “What are your trends? Are there any anomalies in there? What has changed and what have you done with those changes?”
He plans to translate those five years into a picture of the current financial situation, as well as a look forward five years.
“We’re having a hard time meeting everyone’s needs,” said Committee Chairman Randy LaMattina. “We have seen the school district suffer [and] we’ve given them a good chunk of money but it doesn’t seem enough.”
He told Madden that, ultimately, the committee was set up to formulate a strategic plan of where the town’s finances will be in five years.
“If we’re going to fix it, we want to fix it now,” with the help of a new set of eyes, LaMattina said.
“I know we can get there,” Madden said. “I know we can develop a working tool.”
To do that, he said he needs to know information, including practices done from routine but not written down, about the town that is different from his experience.
“It’s the nuances of what makes Whitman Whitman that I need to know,” Madden said.
During the meeting Lynam also reported that, in order to fund this fiscal year, $350,000 of what historically has been excess levy capacity was used to fund, among other things, the increase in the WHRSD budget.
“The concern I had expressed at that meeting is that we were using money that we couldn’t readily identify, but we anticipate would be available, and as an offset we did retain free cash available for appropriation in the event that these numbers weren’t there,” Lynam said.
He asked the town accountant to work through the available numbers and with the Department of Revenue to extrapolate what those numbers would be.
The resulting estimate is that $553,000 will be available in the levy capacity when the tax rate is set, however, the $350,000 already used for the school budget represents part of that figure.
“If all of these numbers are supported, we will have an additional levy of $203,000 when we set our tax rate in late October or early November,” Lynam said.
Lynam and Madden will be asked to formalize how that is done, according to LaMattina.
The UMass, Boston Collins Center will present a capital plan for Whitman at a joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 8 in the Town Hall Auditorium.