Brooklyn residents discuss finance director position

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Brooklyn - posted Mon., Jun. 10, 2013

Brooklyn taxpayers found out that their mill rate would remain flat for fiscal year 2013-2014 at the annual town meeting on June 5. Voters passed both the government budget of $5,298,454 and the education budget of $16,645,269. State revenues will make up for the more than $400,000 increase in the school budget this year, a 2.5-percent increase over last year.

Most of the discussion at the meeting centered around a proposed finance director position for the town. The nine-month position costing $56,250 was the only item that brought comments from the audience. The main point of contention was that a finance director responsible for overseeing both town and education budgets would be a difficult position to fill.

Discussion about the director's responsibilities has been ongoing for two years, according to Dick Francis. The Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and Board of Education members haven't been able to come up with a clear job description or salary, he said. “There are only four towns in the state that have a combined position of finance director working with the town and board of education,” he said. “There is a reason for that. You can't serve two masters.”

Francis served as a selectman in the town years ago. He's familiar with the First Selectman's requirement to stay within budget. “The Board of Education isn't like that,” he said. “They are responsible to the state board of education. The state tells you how to spend the money.”

Board of Finance member Gene Michael Deary said a cost/benefit analysis had been discussed by the boards of selectmen, finance and education. Extensive salary research had been done, and the selectmen were in favor of it, he said. “We can't continue to operate without a finance director,” Deary said. “It gets more challenging every day.”

Superintendent Dr. Louise Berry said the school's financial operation was running smoothly. “Does that mean we don't need a finance director?” she asked. “I think down the road if they don't hire another superintendent with a strong financial background, they will need help.”

An initial proposal to hire a part-time consultant through EastConn rather than create a finance director position was turned down. Members on the Board of Finance didn't have that in mind, Berry said. “They had in mind someone who could serve both town and school. That's where there are a number of differences in opinion. And that's where we are,” she said.

Deary said that the initial costs of the position would translate into long term benefits for the town. Francis estimated that such a position would cost the town approximately $100,000 in salary and benefits a year.

More than 140 of the state's 169 cities and towns have separate financial directors for town and school. “If you had half and half, you would say one approach is as good as another, or that it works in most towns,” Berry said. “When you have so many with their own school finance manager, there's a question. The law is very clear on school financial managers. The top priority has to be the educational welfare of the students, not necessarily the bottom line. So we have different philosophies here.”

“I'm not trying to slow the process,” Francis said. “But the decision to hire a person has been taken from the taxpayers. That is not the way good government operates.”

Voters also approved a capital budget of $280,600. Among other things, the money will be used to purchase software for the Building, Planning and Zoning, and Wetlands Departments, upgrades to school computers, servers and connectivity, painting of the town hall, construction of a gazebo at Riverside Park, replacement of the salt shed roof and a new truck body for the town garage fleet.

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