How Jamestown works: Keeping an eye on the town’s money
The responsibilities of the Jamestown finance director are described in a four-page job description. Those duties range from being the chief financial advisor to the town administrator to training and supervising financial staff. For Christina Collins, who has been the finance director since 1999, the job is all of that and much more.
Collins grew up in Noank, Conn., and graduated from Salve Regina University with a bachelor’s degree in finance. After college, Collins spent time working as a financial analyst in the defense contracting industry. She was looking for more secure employment when she took the job in Jamestown 12 years ago.
The general purpose of the fi- nance director is described this way: “Performs a variety of complex supervisory, professional, administrative and technical accounting and finance functions in maintaining the fiscal records and systems of the town.” It is clearly a major responsibility and one that Collins takes seriously.
The tax department and the water and sewer department fall under Collins’ purview. She has primary responsibility for the annual audit of the town budget that is conducted by an independent auditor and filed with the office of the state’s auditor general at the end of each year. The auditor conducts tests in several areas including tax collection, accounts payable and payroll expenditures.
Jamestown has had a surplus in its general fund balance nearly every year that Collins has been on the job. “It makes it easier when you’re working in a community that lives by its means,” Collins said.
In addition to her other duties, Collins is responsible for much of the human resources activity for the town. This work often takes the form of deciphering the intricacies of benefit programs for town employees. She reports that the one pension fund administered locally, for the police department, is slightly overfunded at this point.
“Many years of good management has given us the ability to be one of the few communities that has a pension fund that is fully funded,” Collins said. She gives credit to town officials for continuing to fund the pension plan each year, allowing Jamestown to avoid the crisis, which has struck so many other communities.
“It’s nice to have the support of management and the council to continue to put in the amount of money that we’ve been putting in,” she said.
Collins feels that the new legislation aimed at resolving Rhode Island’s pension fund crisis will help municipalities by lowering the required contribution to the state pension fund. Aside from the police department, all other municipal employee pension funds are administered by the state.
Collins is proud of the highly experienced staff that she supervises. That includes tax collector Jean Gabriele. Collins credits Gabriele’s experience in the job – more than 30 years – as crucial in resolving issues that arise in regard to tax payments.
The finance department is also responsible for all of the town’s water and sewer billings. Denise Jennings is the water and sewer clerk. She has been employed by the municipal government for 23 years, serving half of that time as the deputy town clerk. Paula Swistak has been with the town for 16 years. She is currently the finance department’s accounting assistant. Prior to taking that job, she was the town’s harbor clerk.
The office of the harbor clerk, is now also included in Collins’ area of responsibility. Kim Devlin has been the clerk since 2007. Executive administrative assistant Debbie Shea has served Jamestown for 27 years. She supports the finance department, taking care of payroll and assisting with human resources, accounts payable and budget preparation.
Aside from the property revaluation coming up in 2012, Collins doesn’t expect anything unusual for her office in the coming year. “We’re very cyclical,” Collins said. “Four tax quarters, four water billings. The revaluation coming up in the next year will have an impact because whenever anybody has to pay a bill we get the questions: Why did my taxes go up? But I’m not really looking at anything in 2012 out of the ordinary. Slow and steady.”
Collins is steadfastly optimistic about the management and financial condition of Jamestown. “The town is very solvent,” she said. “The town is well managed. All of the department heads care about their jobs and how they run their budgets, which in turn makes doing my job a little easier because I’m not dealing with people who go out and overspend and don’t care. Everybody cares about Jamestown and the financial stability of the town.”