, Salem, MA

April 9, 2013

Wenham needs full-time finance director

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

A letter from Selectman Kenneth Whittaker and Finance Committee Chairman Michael Lucy regarding Wenham’s finances appeared in your paper yesterday. The same letter appeared in other media outlets as early as a week ago. The letter claims “there is no feedback from any objective source” that problems exist in our town Finance Department. The events of last week point to several concerns with the financial operations of the town.

Last Monday, nearly 40 residents received incorrect property tax bills. On Tuesday, a former Wenham finance director and town resident spoke at a selectmen’s meeting about baskets of unopened mail, unpaid bills and unreconciled accounts. At the Town Meeting on Saturday, several errors in the budget were raised by citizens along with a desire to fund a finance director position.

My household received an inaccurate tax bill showing a delinquency, late fee and interest — rather surprising since it was paid in December. When I went to the Finance Department, after they did not return a phone call, I saw the town administrator sitting at a table in the department opening stacks of mail from a wire basket.

The two official letters from the town explain that an error was made in posting our payment. Anyone can make an error, but good financial management catches these errors. With our part-time staff, the basic financial services are suffering.

The new and innovative approach proposed continues the current outsourcing of the finance director role to the sole contractor to return a bid for these services. This approach is estimated to cost taxpayers $50,000 for six months of service from Jan. 1 through July 1. However, our previous finance directors received $35,000 to $43,000 for the same time period. Professional staff work the hours necessary to get the job done; a contractor bills for every hour plus mileage.

The facts show that the Wenham Finance Department needs a long-term solution not currently provided by short-term contract arrangements to put the department back in a position to provide their usual level of excellent services.

Michelle Bailey