USA finance

Foxboro selectmen receive update on town finances

In a year marked by leadership transition, Town Accountant Marie Almodovar, who holds the dual title of assistant finance director, is slated to succeed Finance Director George Samia when he steps down next June.

Although the appointment is subject to approval by the board of selectmen, Samia said the pending transition was anticipated several years ago when Almodovar was named assistant finance director. Since then, he added, she has been taking courses and obtaining certifications in expectation of serving in that capacity.

“As far as the transition goes, the plan was to put Marie in as the finance director,” Samia said during a Nov. 8 briefing for selectmen. “I think that would be the best pick you could possibly make.”

At that point, he added, the town would need to initiate a search to recruit and hire a new town accountant.

“Ultimately that’s up to you as a board because the position is appointed by you,” Almodovar said.

In addition to outlining the succession plan, local officials committed to moving forward promptly with a full audit for fiscal 2022 rather than waiting until a new town manager is hired, presumably in January.

“Most people agreed this was the best time to do it before the changing of the guard,” selectmen Chairwoman Leah Gibson said.

Town Manager William Keegan, who officially retires at the end of January but will likely remain on as a “special municipal employee” to help facilitate a leadership transition, likewise supported calls for a full audit.

“At the end of an administration it’s probably a good thing to do,” Keegan said. “But we just need to be clear what the definition means.”

The town’s audit is conducted by professional auditors with input from an ad hoc citizen oversight panel, which recently suggested a working framework that included several different areas for greater scrutiny — including meals and hotel tax revenue.

Pushing back on that request, Samia said that hotel tax revenue is not paid directly to the town by hotel operators, but deposited via wire transfer from the state Department of Revenue.

“The State of Massachusetts does all those calculations,” Samia said of the quarterly payments. “They don’t share those with us.”

Samia also pushed back on requests for additional checks to review and verify signatures on purchase vouchers and related documents, saying the town already has a multi-layered process for that purpose.

“I don’t think everybody understands that a lot of this is already happening already,” he said of the audit panel’s proposed framework.

Selectman Dennis Keefe, who previously served on the advisory committee and is currently the board’s liaison to the audit panel, questioned Samia on procedures for handling emergency purchases and whether there are significant amounts of cash in the system.

“Petty cash is a headache,” Samia declared, saying that keeping small amounts of cash on hand for minor purchases was an outdated practice. “We don’t need to do that anymore.”

Attempting to smooth ruffled feathers and keep the discussion on track, Gibson suggested that members of the panel were simply advancing a means of focusing the upcoming audit.

“Forget the specific examples,” she counseled. “I think the theme is like internal controls, revenue accounts expense controls and best practices — what makes sense and where.”

In addition to laying groundwork for the audit process, Almodovar, Chief Assessor Thomas Welch and Treasurer/Collector Paula Maloney briefed selectmen on financial developments in anticipation of the town’s annual financial summit scheduled for Dec. 6.

According to Almodovar, Foxboro’s free cash account has been certified at $5.22 million for the fiscal year ending June 30 — up from $3.9 million the previous year. That increase resulted largely from $1.4 million in unspent funds combined with $1.6 million in surplus revenue from concerts at Gillette Stadium and “substantial” permit receipts from the north end zone construction project.

In addition, Almodovar said the finance department has updated strategic goals and performance measures, outlined a budget calendar for fiscal 2024 and firmed up internal policies and procedures.

According to Maloney, the town has collected 99 percent of property taxes for fiscal 2022 and 96 percent of payments for the first two quarters of fiscal 2023.

“That’s pretty good considering the money problems people are having,” she observed.

As soon as the state certifies next year’s tax rate, Maloney said second- and third-quarter property tax bills will be prepared and mailed out.

Earlier, Welch had cited several developments in the assessors’ office. These included approval of a new townwide valuation by the state Department of Revenue, installation of a new mapping program enhancing access to the property database, working with the town water department to document lot changes on select parcels and completing over 400 property inspections to validate valuation updates.

“Ultimately that’s up to you as a board because the position is appointed by you,” Almodovar said.


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