2013-01-17 / Front Page

Town’s finances A-OK

Auditor says long-term outlook in good shape
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

Jamestown is in “good shape” financially, the Town Council learned Monday night from an expert hired to audit the books.

Paul Dansereau, a certified public accountant with Baxter, Dansereau & Associates, said his firm has reviewed both School Department and municipal financial statements and found the books in order for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012.

“The town’s in good shape,” he said. “The long-term outlook is in good shape.”

Dansereau also said the pension plans are fine, and actions taken by the School Committee have cut the town’s financial obligation to retired teachers for health and other benefits approximately in half. Dansereau confirmed the news after School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser drew attention to the latest numbers concerning other postemployment benefits.

Rumors circulating in town had incorrectly put the school’s OPEB liability at $14 million, Kaiser said, but the audit set the record straight.

“I’m doing a victory dance,” said Kaiser. She received the latest OPEB figures on Dec. 21 from Angell Pension Group.

“The overall liability is basically in half,” Kaiser said. The taxpayers face about $6.5 million in liabilities, not $14 million as some previously thought.

According to Kaiser, most of the savings resulted from the School Committee’s decision to swap lifetime health benefits for most school employees to a Medigap supplementary plan when retirees become eligible for Medicare coverage.

“The town’s pension plan is in good shape also,” Dansereau said, referring to the plan for municipal retirees.

Dansereau said the audit was completed and submitted to the state by the Dec. 31 deadline. The Town Council voted unanimously Monday to accept the audit.

In his presentation for the town councilors, Dansereau explained the summary at the beginning of the audit shows combined numbers – school operations combined with the town’s general fund per federal regulations.

However, a detailed breakout – separating the schools and municipal accounts – has been included with the audit at the suggestion of Finance Director Tina Collins.

The numbers show that Jamestown’s town government did run at a small deficit last year, Dansereau said, but the deficit, which amounted to about $147,000, was smaller than town officials originally expected.

In the budget last year, the town earmarked money from surpluses of past years to cover the projected deficit. The School Department also had anticipated a deficit and withdrew roughly $155,000 in reserve money to balance the budget, but fared better than expected and ran at a surplus of $351,998. When combined, the school surplus and town deficit resulted in an overall surplus of $204,782.

This is the second year the audit has presented the combined numbers, Collins said. The reason is because Jamestown does not receive a significant percentage of its school funding from state aid. According to Collins, East Greenwich and Little Compton also combine school operations with the general fund, but communities that receive more state aid to education do not.

This year’s review turned out to be “one of the easiest years” in memory, Dansereau said. He credited Collins and Jane Littlefield, the School Department’s financial officer, for keeping the books in order.

Collins said the audit information is available online at the town’s website.

In other business, Collins, who attended the meeting in place of Town Administrator Bruce Keiser who was ill, reported the town has amassed about $76,000 in the technology upgrade account, which is collected primarily from a portion of recording fees from real-estate titles.

Because of a 2004 state law, local governments may apply 10 percent of recording fees to preserve documents and for technology upgrades. In addition, the state requires local clerks to collect a $4 surcharge for each recorded document – $3 goes to the state to fund the Rhode Island Historical Records Trust, and $1 stays at home to preserve “public records of historic value.”

Collins said the town did not withdraw money from the fund for the first four years but has since started to use the money. She anticipates some of the fund will be used to prepare a request for proposals for a new website and to pay for a paperless system designed to put official documents on computers.

Councilor Thomas Tighe asked about the paperless system.

Collins said the plan is to implement the paperless system in phases. She expects the project to start within the next three months, and said the information-technology staff would make a progress report to the council at an upcoming meeting. She said the paperless system would probably be discussed when the IT department comes to meet with the council.

Council President Kristine Trocki said she anticipates the paperless system will result in savings. “It’s got to be cheaper,” Trocki said.

Finally, the councilors agreed to go ahead and apply for a wetlands permit for a bike path across the reservoir property between North and Eldred roads. Last week the council learned that the permit fee would be $900 more than expected. Because the extra money wasn’t in the budget for the project, the council had to vote to take the money out of the incidentals account. Dickinson was away last week and asked the councilors to table the vote until his return, which they did.

Town Engineer Mike Gray said the fee is for a review by staff at the state Department of Environmental Management. The town had estimated the review would cost $300 and submitted a check with the application. But the state wanted $1,200 for the review and sent the application back.

Dickinson asked Gray if town officials had found out whether DEM was inclined to approve the bike path before any fees were spent. Gray said the initial meeting with the state was favorable, and added the bike path would also serve as a maintenance road for public works and would help the environment.

“We’re using an existing stream corridor to access the face of the dam,” he said. “It’s a nice path across the spillway.”

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