Overtime, Snowstorms Put Budget In Red
Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco explains why the public safety salaries are running above budget.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is running a deficit in several of its line items — including police and fire — because of unexpected costs.
Four accounts are significantly over budget or close to being emptied. Police and fire have accounts that have expended more than 80 percent of their balances because of overtime; the snow and ice account is more than $84,000 in the red and the veterans account is expected to be $170,000 over.
The update was the first of what Mayor Richard Alcombright said will be regular budget control reports to the Finance Committee.
"We were budgeting for the exact dollar salary ... we kept the budget accurate and projected overtime but we didn't project for four [officers] to go to the academy and we didn't project for five firefighters on long-term disability," the mayor told the committee on Tuesday. "That's something to keep in mind as we begin budgeting for next year."
Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco said the department paid extra officer salaries for about 48 weeks to cover four officers at the academy plus two long-term disabilities on the force. Morocco said it was unusual for four officers to attend the academy in one year. It was caused by the number of retirements and departures and the fact the state scheduled the academies back to back. Another officer has retired as of March 1 and that means his replacement will attend the next academy.
Morocco did note that some revenues, such as the $15,000 reimbursed by the Solid Sound Festival last summer for overtime, do not show up against his budget but in the general receipts.
Nevertheless, "we're looking at a very sizable shortfall here but I think you're going to see there are a lot of smaller things that we — turnbacks — use," said the mayor. "There are some places we will not spend up to our budget."
The snow and ice account, the only account municipalities can overspend, will get some relief from federal reimbursements for the Jan. 12 snowstorm. The mayor said he expected to get $47,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency toward the $58,000 spent in man-hours, material and equipment to battle the massive Nor'easter.
The veterans services account is already $47,000 over and is expected to spend another $31,000 a month for the next four months. Seventy-five percent of those funds will be reimbursed by the federal government but not until the next fiscal year.
Alcombright said the uptick reflects the large number of veterans who have served in the Middle East and Afghanistan. "We're serving a lot of veterans through this district office," he said. "This money goes back into the community; it pays for rent, it buys groceries, it does all these things. It's a program that needs to be there."
The mayor said city is also keeping an eye on Department of Public Works salaries, which were elevated becuase of the amount of overtime to fight the near-constant snowstorms, and the health insurance account, which is currently projected to be about $100,000 over, "but we're hoping it will fall in line."
Also in deficit: the mayor's office because he didn't realize he had to budget $2,000 in dues to the National Mayor's Association. He promised to do it right next year.
Overall, the city is running about where it should be three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year, said Alcombright, with half its expected revenues received and most accounts having spent between 60 percent and 70 percent of their budgeted amounts. The fiscal year ends June 30.
Among the good signs are some $90,000 collected in back water fees; a projected increase in school tuition and about $50,000 more in transfer station revenues; more back excise taxes collected; savings of up to $50,000 from taking over the water filtration plant; and bundling of utility costs for all departments which could mean another $70,000 in savings.
The city is also preparing to sell off a number of properties later this summer, including two 64-acre lots off West Shaft Road. A solicitation for bids from auctioneers is being prepared for publication.
The sewer fee is expected to show a deficit its first year because a first-quarter payment couldn't instituted in time.
"It ain't pretty but I think it's doable," said the mayor. "We're going to continue to watch revenues very closely."
Alcombright also provided the committee and those in attendance with the city's responses to recommendations from the state management review and the audit done by Scanlon & Associates. Many of the issues were in the process of being developed or implemented; others, such as adopting current budget procedures as ordinances, were found to be too complex to adopt before the fiscal year begins. They will continue to be worked on.
He said the city was also following the Governmental Accounting and Standards Board, or GASB, rules by accounting for unfunded post-retirement benefits. The city is projected to have future liabilities of $92 million.
"If were to start funding it it would be $3 million a year," said Alcombright. "The accounting practice says you should be banking for this but it would bankrupt every city in the state."
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Auditor Recommends Financial Director
Tom Scanlon of Scanlon & Associates gave a presentation on his company's audit of the city's fiscal 2010 finances at Monday's Finance Committee meeting. Present were committee member Alan Marden, left, Chairman Michael Bloom and Mayor Richard Alcombright.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city's auditor is recommending it look into creating a financial director to provide stability and continuity over North Adams' financial structure.
The advice wasn't part of the 19 written recommendations submitted by Scanlon & Associates as part of the firm's audit for fiscal 2010, but Tom Scanlon suggested such a position might benefit the city during his audit presentation to the Finance Committee on Monday afternoon.
The complexity of federal and state laws and grant requirements, the development of a rapport with the state Department of Revenue and a sense of continuity with auditors, financial authorities and municipal staff has led municipalities of North Adams' size to invest in a financial chief, he said.
Scanlon went over the 19 deficiencies identified by the audit and suggested the city research getting a finance director.
"I know it's tough to put that position in and fund it, but it adds stability to the financial picture," continued Scanlon, adding that high staff turnover can affect bonding and other funding matters. "You want to have public confidence that when a taxpayer walks in a door and pays their real estate bill it's being accounted for correctly."
Mayor Richard Alcombright said different positions within the City Hall have taken on some of the duties of a director depending on their backgrounds and experience. After taking office, the mayor, a banker, created a finance team of certain department heads, including the auditor, treasurer and assessor, but much of the role has landed on business manager Nancy Ziter.
"This city is no less complex than Springfield or Boston ... We do all the same things those municipalities do but our staffing is incredibly low," said the mayor. "We have to startng thinking of ways of keeping people in City Hall, keeping them in these positions."
The city will begin interviewing for a new administrative officer this week and may look more toward someone with human service or financial acumen, he said, rather than law experience as in the past.
Scanlon said his suggestion wasn't meant to disparage the city's current staff. "I can't say enough about the staff," he said, adding they had done a good job in managing the city's finances and that the finance records were "free of material misstatement."
The firm listed 19 deficiencies it found, which were supplied to the committee along with the administration's responses. The mayor related some of the problems to the Finance Committee at its last meeting. They include the need for better internal controls, too much reliance on reserves, the need to account for future liabilities (because of a change in state law), better purchase controls, capitalization planning, long-term strategic financial planning, oversight of related accounts, investing, reviewing trust and revolving accounts, and implementing fiscal policies.
The mayor said the city is in the process of implementing new controls and reporting measures but some deficiencies may require time or software investment.
Scanlon & Associates also "tested" (or single audited) the city's compliance in expending five federal grants and found no errors that would require reporting to the governement.
The company did not look back beyond fiscal 2010, which ended June 30, 2010, to compare results; however, it has been contracted to audit fiscal 2011 and 2012.
The City Council will be provided with the three documents — the audit, the single audit and the management letter and reply — at Tuesday's meeting. All three documents can be found on our Scribd site and on the sidebar.
In attendance were committee members Chairman Michael Bloom and Alan Marden; David Bond was absent. Also in attendance were Councilors Marie Harpin, Lisa Blackmer and David Lamarre, Business Manager Nancy Ziter and Assessor Ross Vivori.
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