Jul 30, 2014
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Joint Finance Department Details Coming in 1-2 Weeks

Wenham Selectmen tonight will hear about how the town will get through without a permanent Finance Director while both towns look into establishing a combined Finance Department.

Joint Finance Department Details Coming in 1-2 Weeks

Wenham selectmen will hear details on Tuesday night about how the town will get through without a Finance Director as officials from both towns continue examining the possibility of combining the two town’s finance functions.

The move would not mean that money would be combined but instead that Hamilton and Wenham finance functions would be handled by one combined department.

Last week, Wenham Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren said it is an “unique reorganization opportunity.”

On Tuesday night, when the at , the board will hear about “the use of consultants needed to keep operations going” until a final plan is put in place, Chelgren said.

On Monday, Chelgren said that it would be one to two more weeks before “we are ready to call the two Boards of Selectmen back into a meeting in order to discuss the bigger matter,” meaning a combined finance department.

When the two boards met together last week, they gave the go-ahead to further consider the matter.

The move towards a combined department began last month after Finance Director Nichole Hagstrom resigned to take a job as grant writer for the Salem School District. She starts in Salem next week.

Before Hagstrom took the job last fall, it took several searches that eventually came up empty. Hagstrom had worked as Chelgren’s assistant before being named Finance Director.

The combined department could alleviate the need to undergo another search and help free up money to use to hire a shared employee to handle payroll and benefits functions that are currently handled by various employees, according to the plan outlined for both Boards of Selectmen last week.

“We’re not getting the new candidates coming in, the pool is drying up,”: Chelgren said.

Plus, Wenham has budgeted $65,000 for a finance director and the “average market salary" is $91,000, according to Chelgren.

The move would also require Wenham to purchase more expensive finance software known as Munis, which is used by many communities. The cost, about $200,000, is expected to be covered by a state grant that will be announced in January.

The most concern about the proposal came from Wenham Selectman John Clemenzi when the boards hear the proposal and discussed it last week. Clemenzi said he had several questions about the proposal.

“To rush any of this would not be doing either town a service,” he said, later adding; “I think we need to take this very seriously and thoughtfully.”

Hamilton Finance Director Deborah Nippes-Mena, who is proposed to become the finance director under the new setup, said the timeline calls for an intermunicipal agreement signed by the end of November and “significant transitioning done” by Dec. 1 so that budget development can stay on track.

The plan calls for Hamilton residents to be able to perform transactions for both towns, and vice versa, meaning that Wenham residents could go to on Friday afternoon when Wenham Town Hall is closed, for example. Wenham's Tuesday evening hours for the finance department would also be available to Hamilton residents.

Hamilton would also hire a different auditor than Wenham under the plan, according to Mena.

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