Town’s fiscal management policies reviewed

  • Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, right, discusses possible changes to Athol’s fiscal management policies during Tuesday’s meeting of the Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee. Listening are committee Chair Ken Duffy and members Paul Nelson, Gary Deyo and Mike Butler. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

  • Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, right, discusses possible changes to Athol’s Fiscal Management Policies during Tuesday’s meeting of the Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee. Listening are committee members Gary Deyo, left, and Mike Butler. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

For Athol Daily News
Published: 2/12/2020 9:54:23 PM

ATHOL – The Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee Tuesday night began the process of reviewing the town’s fiscal management policies with Town Manager Shaun Suhoski.

Suhoski began by drawing the committee’s attention to a section in the policy manual that states “the combined balance of free cash and stabilization funds should be maintained at seven to ten percent of the prior fiscal year general fund operating budget.”

“I want us to look at that,” said Suhoski, “and see whether seven to ten percent really, in this time and age, is a sufficient reserve. Any one thing, or any major event can be a half-million dollars right off the bat. We’ve got $700,000 or $800,000, and that’s great. But, really, for an operation this size, if something catastrophic or unforeseen happened it could really put the pinch on the taxpayers.”

Suhoski told the committee he’s considering changing the policy to state the combined total of free cash and stabilization monies should total between 10 and 12 percent of the previous budget.

“There’s a range within each of those subsections,” he explained. “Free cash — I would propose three to seven percent, that current range, seem adequate. You don’t want too much because that just means we’re taxing too much. But you want to have some liquidity in free cash to meet the peaks and valleys in the budgeting process.

“But on the stabilization side, I’m looking at seven to nine percent — in that range — and then the overall range from 10 to 12 percent.”

Currently, the policy states the stabilization fund should amount to five to seven percent.

Suhoski said he also wants to add a statement to the policy declaring that, at the discretion of the Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee and Town Meeting, the town may use free cash — if the amount is sufficient — to cover the cost of cost of unfunded liabilities, such as retirement or other postemployment benefits.

Suhoski also wants to add a sentence that states “free cash is not intended to be utilized to subsidize the recurring operating budget.”

“That’s something your committee promoted,” he continued, “and we’ve done over the last several fiscal years. But why not say it more bluntly now that we’ve climbed out of that hole.”

The town manager also wants it stated that “the Board of Selectmen, in its capacity as water/sewer commissioners, is encouraged to develop three-year rate projections to avoid fluctuations to ratepayers and to provide a basis for sound capital planning.”

The policy review will continue at the committee’s next meeting March 10. While the committee, town manager, and others may suggest changes to the fiscal management policies, the final version of the manual needs the approval of the Selectboard.


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