New committee aims to strengthen Southampton’s financial health

  • Southampton Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/20/2021 11:40:53 AM

SOUTHAMPTON — The Select Board is looking for three residents to join a new 12-member committee dedicated to improving the town’s financial health.

Though the official name of the group has not been finalized, the cost efficiency ad hoc committee is charged with analyzing the town’s infrastructure and delivery of services with a goal to achieve savings, and improve services to meet the needs of residents, said Chris Fowles, chairperson of the Select Board. Interested residents should have experience in financial management and/or human resources. 

“We want some new energy, new perspectives. There’s lots of people in town that have got ideas and experience, and we welcome those and we want to make a place where they can contribute to that,” Fowles said. “We’re trying to figure out a way to improve our financial health and not have to constantly scramble around to do things that should be pretty normal and attract people to come and serve in our key positions in town.”

Over the past year, Fowles said the Select Board has also created two other committees — the seven-member Ad Hoc Technology Committee and the four-member Ad Hoc Grant Search Committee — that have been very successful, and Select Board members hope this new committee will share in that same success.

The technology committee has been assessing the town’s information technology system and working to upgrade its cybersecurity.

Of the six grant applications that the grant search committee has submitted, all have received funding totaling close to $500,000, said Fowles, who serves as chairperson of that ad hoc committee.

The town faced some challenges with losing its former town accountant Vicki Leigh Moro, who left in October 2020 after eight years to pursue a job as city auditor in Westfield. In a previous interview with the Gazette, Moro said the new job provided an opportunity for professional growth.

Northampton-based temporary employment firm Johnson & Hill Staffing Services provided a temporary town accountant for the majority of the 11 months that Southampton was without a permanent town accountant, according to Gibson. The town hired Bradley Okscin as its permanent town accountant on Sept. 27.

This past fiscal year, Fowles said, the Select Board, Finance Committee and Town Administrator Ed Gibson collectively worked hard to meet all departmental budgetary needs, but were unable to secure all the funding the various town boards requested. With the defeat of a $718,467 Proposition 2½ override that was intended to fund school and municipal expenditures, cuts to hours, positions and funding were made throughout town departments and school district.

When the Select Board set priorities for the current fiscal year, the top focus became securing financial stability, Fowles said.

“Southampton doesn’t have a town planner that can analyze our economic situation and develop strategies for financial stability. We rely on volunteers for everything. We have an incredibly dedicated group of volunteers that help us out on the many committees we have in town,” she said.

“As with other initiatives, the town must establish a new volunteer committee of qualified citizens and employees to examine and implement measures designed to maximize the town’s financial and personnel resources; gain efficiency and/or cost savings in service provision; enhance employment competitiveness; and achieve and maintain long-term fiscal stability.”

The cost efficiency ad hoc committee will be a 12-member committee composed of Gibson; two Select Board members; and three board/committee members, with one each from the Finance Committee, a local school designee and the Planning Board.

It will also have one town employee or board member with one person from each of the following groups: assessor, accountant, treasurer/collector and library trustees; building commissioner, town clerk, water commission and Council on Aging board; and police, fire and highway departments, and Board of Health.

The three citizen members will bring the group to 12 people in total.

Committee meetings will be held monthly and updates to the Select Board will be provided bimonthly.

Those interested in applying should send a letter of interest to the Select Board detailing their background and reasons for wanting serve, as well as their availability to serve in this capacity for at least one year. Letters should be sent to: Select Board, 210 College Highway, Southampton, MA 01073 or emailed to selectmen@townofsouthampton.org.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com


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