STONEHAM, MA - The Selectmen effectively quashed the Finance Board’s control over a sparsely used reserve fund last week by unofficially directing Town Administrator David Ragucci to set up an alternate account.
During a dual meeting of the Selectmen and School Committee last Tuesday, Ragucci was told not to fund the reserve account moving forward and to find an entirely different method of paying for unexpected expenditures during the course of any fiscal year.
The move comes as friction apparently continues to build between the Finance Board and town officials on the School Committee and Board of Selectmen, who seem to have been at odds ever since Town Meeting endorsed an unbalanced budget in the spring of 2010 at the behest of the advisory board.
The membership of the Finance Board has changed drastically since that Town Meeting vote in 2010, though members have repeatedly clashed with the Selectmen and School Committee on various issues since that time.
Last week, School Committee member Jeanne Craigie first challenged the Finance Board’s oversight of the reserve account, which hasn’t been funded with a single cent for at least five years, as the town administrator went over a series of proposed fiscal guidelines.
Technically, the reserve account has been established by state statute, meaning that town officials can’t change who has jurisdiction over it. However, Craigie argued that only an elected body — Finance Board members are appointed by the town moderator — should have control over such spending.
Selectman Robert Sweeney agreed, and further argued that the Selectmen need to stop delegating their authority to other municipal bodies. In particular, the Selectman referred to the Library Board of Trustees and the Board of Health, who have sole discretion over spending in those departments.
“They have the authority to spend this money? I’m really not that comfortable allowing that,” said the veteran selectman of the Finance Board’s control over the reserve account, which can hold up to $50,000.
“We seem to be delegating our authority piece by piece and year after year as the Board of Selectmen. Sooner or later, we’re going to be here taking about barking dogs and branches that fall, because that’s going to be the extent of our authority,” he furthered.
According to Ragucci, changing the funding mechanism proves tricky, because he can’t just establish an account like the Reserve Fund without clearly spending out the purpose of the line item.
Town Counsel William Solomon echoed those sentiments, pointing out that state law generally forbids the creation of an account with such a broad purpose.
“My concern with trying to put it through the regular budget is per the guidelines, that $50,000 would come out of the town’s side. I’d have to cut something to fund our reserve fund,” Ragucci explained.
However, the Selectmen, though not taking a formal vote, ignored those concerns, ordering Ragucci informally to stricken all mention of the reserve account and its funding mechanism from the fiscal guidelines.
© The Stoneham Independent