The Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) remains an “Ad Hoc Committee” by a majority consensus of our members. The FAC voting members are elected and appointed officials, department heads and board liaisons. No votes are taken when attendees constitute a majority of their boards. Attendance is currently at an all-time high, averaging 15 attendees at each meeting. Board members and liaisons who cannot attend due to our daytime meeting time are given minutes of the meeting usually within two days of the meeting, so they can stay up to date with all issues and current information. Very few towns (there are some, usually AAA rated) have as many officials routinely communicating with each other and equally aware of financial related questions and other challenges of all the departments and boards of the town. Very few municipalities can brag that a vast majority of their elected officials and board members are fully competent to answer the majority of financially related questions voters raise at town meetings that sometimes include some fairly complicated issues. The FAC is one of a handful of communities that weathered the worst recession since the great depression with pretty much business as usual, no overrides or layoffs, no major change of course for our capital plan, and no increase in tax title cases! All this while maintaining a level tax rate and above average stabilization, all while taking a hit for paying for the new high school.
The Role of the FAC
The FAC’s primary role is to gather, organize, discuss options and finalize a preliminary capital plan and financial report for the Finance Committee (FINCOM). The FAC does not have the authority to reject any capital request proposals, but can request backup information like obtaining professional quotes, alternative options, list of pros and cons, etc. prior to the FAC presentation to FINCOM. We do indicate to FINCOM when there are capital requests that in our opinion did not satisfy our request for backup information (data) needed to justify recommending a warrant item. The FAC normally comes to a general consensus on most capital requests when there is good supporting data. In those rare occasions we don’t all agree an item is justified, we will present both pro and con to FINCOM. Having a member from FINCOM at our meetings usually gives FINCOM a “heads up” on items that they may need more data on prior to meeting with individual department during the budget approval process.
The secondary function of the group is to recommend to FINCOM the best way the town should fund each item contained within the plan. The results at Town Meeting are not always predictable, so our assumption at FAC meetings is that all warrant article requests for capital may pass at Town Meeting, even when FINCOM, FAC and the Selectmen do not support them. There needs to be a funding plan already in place when and if this happens. We also suggest alternate financing options that FINCOM might follow if certain key warrant articles fail at Town Meeting. Taxpayers can and should reject warrant articles for capital that they feel are not justified or town officials/department heads have not done a good job justifying at Town Meeting. For example, if we have a large, multi-thousand dollar item that fails at Town Meeting, it may give us an option to change funding strategies originally in place during Town Meeting for other capital items, including changing our borrowing options, funding sources, moving money into stabilization, etc.
The group’s third function is to monitor the overall financial health of the Town, keeping up with new information including new lawsuits, new building permits, changes in possible assessed values, new state laws that will/could impact our local budget, etc. We review how revenues and expenses could be affected by this new information and how the town might best meet the challenges. This has been an important function of the group and is the reason we changed the original name of the Committee from Capital Planning to Financial Advisory a few years prior. Not many towns can say the majority of their officials and employees are up to date with accurate financial news.
Forms and Documents
Capital Plan and Calendar
Meetings and Minutes
Meeting minutes and agendas for Finance Advisory Committee meetings can be viewed on MyTownGovernment.org
Berlin, MA Board of Selectmen
** posted 12/11/18**
Discussion with department heads about strategic planning.