ELLSWORTH — The city’s Finance Department is still catching up after losing two key employees over the last year, Finance Director Josh McIntyre told councilors on Nov. 15. A new hire is being trained, he said, but overall the department needs help.
One reason is the filing of timely audits that play into future bond rates for the city. Consistently late audits mean higher rates, McIntyre said, and the city’s audits have been filed late multiple years because of staffing issues.
A second reason is that when the two solar facilities on Mariaville Road are completed and connected to the Versant power grid, the city is contracted to purchase net energy credits for 20 years. This could save the city nearly $200,000 each year.
But the monthly tracking and reporting will be time-consuming and there is just not enough staff, McIntyre said. If it’s not done accurately, the city could even lose money.
“[We need a] Finance Department that’s firing on all pistons,” City Manager Glenn Moshier said.
A new accountant will also provide continuity of operations if someone leaves, is sick or on vacation, McIntyre added. “All things considered, I think it will be money well spent. It will ensure things operate smoothly going forward.”
Four of the seven councilors agreed, but Steven O’Halloran, Gene Lyons and Michelle Kaplan voted against creating a new position.
“I made a promise to my constituents to stop the city from growing and growing,” Lyons said. “Are we just going to keep hiring and hiring?”
Council Chairman Dale Hamilton found this inaccurate.
“It’s a recurring theme, a myth, a belief that city government is growing and growing,” he said. “Look at the mill rate over the past five years. [It’s] almost unchanged.”
While costs have gone up, cuts have been made, he said, and the idea that the city has added “lots of positions” is untrue.
“We consolidated positions over the last few years,” Hamilton said, as employees left and their positions were not filled.
As examples, Moshier noted that the life and safety inspector position has been rolled into code enforcement, so the open code enforcement position is not being filled. And Moshier himself fills dual roles as city manager and police chief.
Moshier said he looked into outsourcing payroll, but it was expensive and the city’s payroll, especially with multiple pay rates for police and fire department employees, is complicated. The new position would also handle payroll and human resources, currently done by Toni Dyer.
O’Halloran found fault with the maximum $77,649 allocated for salary, benefits and equipment for the proposed position. He echoed Kaplan’s question that the $43,000 proposed salary was too low for an accountant. And while benefits are calculated at their highest possible rate — a family health insurance plan over a single plan, for example — that does not mean a higher salary can be offered.
“I realize the difficulty it might pose,” McIntyre acknowledged.
McIntyre was hired in June, taking over for Jenn Merchant, who became deputy finance director. But with an accounts payable position vacant, Merchant spent nearly three months recently making sure the city’s bills were paid and the warrants printed and ready for councilors to sign each Friday until the position was filled.
That warrant signing process will be digitized, which would save about a day’s worth of printing, copying and stapling, after McIntyre proposed and councilors approved the change. Now all councilors, not just those on the Finance Committee, could review the payables before the warrants are signed early Friday mornings.
Hamilton asked that McIntyre provide a comprehensive presentation of the Finance Department and its workload at the Dec. 20 council meeting, noting, “Community understanding is an important factor.”
In other business, the council unanimously approved appointing Dyer as interim city clerk, effective Nov. 16.
“I’m excited,” Dyer said the next day. “I was a town clerk in Hancock for seven years, so it should be a smooth transition.”
She said she will continue to also fill the human resources and payroll position until the new finance position is filled.