By Lori Richard, Neighb News Correspondent
The Acushnet Selectboard voted unanimously to hire Carla Mourao as the town’s new Assistant Town Treasurer/Collector at its meeting on 3/15/22. She comes to the position with 26 years of experience in the field, including the allocation and management of a $20 million operating budget and financial records for the City of New Bedford’s fire department. Her knowledge includes MUNIS financial software, accounting, payroll, debt/overflow, calculations, reconciling receipts, and preparing financial reports.
Interim Town Administrator Jamie Kelley recommended that the board hire her.
“She can hit the ground running,” especially with her extensive experience with payroll and financial software, he said.
Ms. Mourao added that since moving to Acushnet two years ago, she has “needed to do more to be an integral part of this community,” and her expertise serving residents in the public sector is a good fit. She pointed to her involvement as chairperson of Campbell Elementary School’s playground project, which was named after Sgt. Sean M. Gannon who was killed in the line of duty in April 2018. Her committee raised more than $200,000 in a year for the project.
Selectboard members agreed that Ms. Mourao would be a welcome addition to the town considering her impressive qualifications. The fact that she’s also a town resident is an added bonus.
The board also held a moment of silence to honor the late Constance “Connie” Preston, who passed away on March 12. Chair David Desroches read a letter from current Library Director Dina St. Pierre saying that Ms. Preston was a “dedicated and beloved staff member” of the Acushnet Public Library for over 20 years. During retirement she co-founded the Friends of the Library, on which she served as secretary until late 2020. Her dedication was also “instrumental in advocating for a new library building” and led to the Acushnet 1000 fundraising initiative. An avid gardener, she served on the Parting Ways Beautification Committee for many years as well.
She took “extreme pride in the Town of Acushnet” and “she will be remembered and missed by library patrons and staff members,” Ms. St. Pierre said.
In a separate letter to the selectboard, Ms. St. Pierre thanked employees of the Department of Public Works for their prompt response during recent snow storms. She said their help was especially appreciated as the library did not have a custodian on duty to take care of the clean-up.
In other business, Mr. Kelley reported to the board on the status of his 30 Day Plan. To date, he has visited every job site except the DPW and he has worked with the Finance Committee and town departments to determine potential budgetary deficits, which will be addressed when selectboard members discuss Town Meeting articles at a future meeting. Mr. Kelley noted that the town will not have a firm dollar figure for free cash until the state Department of Revenue certifies it in April.
Additionally, Mr. Kelley said that he held a Department Head Meeting on 3/8/22, when a committee was formed to plan infrastructure projects, update the town’s Master Plan, and develop 5- and 10-year capital plans.
The committee includes, but is not limited to, Town Planner Doug Pimentel, DPW Director Dan Menard, Police Chief Chris Richmond, Fire Chief Kevin Gallagher, and Mr. Kelley.
Regarding the budget, Mr. Kelley recommended that the town create three new stabilization funds to provide monies for unexpected needs as well as to provide accounts in which to accommodate state loan funds. A health stabilization fund would help to “smooth out any spikes” in unanticipated health insurance increases. An accrued liability for absences stabilization fund would buffer the town in the case of buy-outs and other unforeseen retirement costs. Likewise, a stormwater systems improvement stabilization fund would cover infrastructure improvements and engineering work.
The funds would also meet the state requirement for the town to have dedicated places in which to deposit loan monies at 0% interest for 5 years.
Selectboard member Kevin Gaspar questioned whether it was prudent to move money into stabilization funds since the town would need a 2/3 majority vote at Town Meeting to access the funds. He said he wanted to ensure that funds are available as needed. (As a disclosure, Mr. Gaspar said he had discussed his concerns with Mr. Kelley prior to this meeting.)
Mr. Kelley responded that they could leave some money in departmental line items to cover anticipated costs and money could be taken from free cash to pay for increases. Subsequently, those monies could be replenished from the stabilization funds.
One of Mr. Kelley’s primary concerns is covering water and sewer services, including stormwater permitting. Such expenses can escalate overnight, he said.
“In my previous community it went from $200,000 to $400,000 in one year,” said Mr. Kelley.
He emphasized that the cost of water and sewer pipes have doubled and upgrades are being planned.
“It’s one of the most important improvements a community can do,” he said.
Currently, the town’s General Stabilization Fund is “good” according to Mr. Kelley, with $136,885 in the account.
However, Mr. Gaspar wondered why the investment revenue account is so low at about $5,000.
“That’s a pretty dismal number,” he said. “Shouldn’t we be doing better?” Mr. Kelley agreed that the figure did not make sense, and he has requested an explanation from the Town Accountant, who has been out of the office for state certification for the past few days.
“In the past it had $13,000 or $14,000 and now it has $5,000,” said Mr. Kelley. “Why?”
The board convened in Executive Session to discuss strategy with regards to collective bargaining (health insurance).
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