Town Supervisor Paula Mahan said the town’s financial condition is worse than she anticipated and she has ordered a freeze on all nonessential town spending, though no layoffs are expected.
“We have a very serious financial condition and it will take years to get out of it,” said Mahan, the first Democrat elected as town supervisor in decades.
Public safety, including emergency services, police and highways, will be not be affected. The freeze will apply to daily expenses incurred by the town, including conferences, trips, parties and the use of town-owned vehicles by town employees as well as journals and jackets that are purchased for certain departments and not needed, according to Mahan.
Mahan expects the freeze will last several months, until everything is reviewed and analyzed — including a state audit expected any day now. “The state audit will be the icing on the cake; it will give us answers, the last piece of the puzzle to see if things are consistent and to see how much the town actually owes,” said Mahan.
A Moody’s Investor Service report issued in 2007 said the town had a deficit of $8.5 million, but after a review of town records Mahan believes the figure is higher, though she did not want to provide an exact figure and said it’s changing on a daily basis.
She and the town comptroller are going through everything on a daily basis “line by line” to get a better idea of what the actual deficit is.
“Once we get all reports and review and tweak our financial plan, we will educate staff and department heads. The next step is to bring it to the public about the real financial situation of the town.”
Mahan said somewhere along the line, people neglected what they should have been doing to maintain the town’s financial health with internal controls and a system of checks and balances, which led to the deficit.
She does not want to lay off any employees. “We will do everything we can that will have the least impact on employees and residents,” said the former teacher.
For now, all town expenses are being reviewed by the town comptroller and Mahan, and changes have been made to cut costs.
For starters, the town will have three full-time attorneys, rather than four.
Also, the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Conservation Advisory Council and the Sign Review Board each had its own attorney. To cut costs, the positions have been eliminated for the Sign and Conservation boards.
Financing for the Rudy Ciccotti Family Recreation Center, built near the Crossings and run by the Youth Center, is under scrutiny.
The town had allocated about $125,000 each year to the Youth Center. An additional $250,000 was allocated in 2007 to the Ciccotti Center for a total of $325,000, which may be reduced.
Funding for the town’s Park and Recreation Department will also be examined. Craig Blair, who was manager at the town golf course, is now the town comptroller, and the vacant position at the golf course will not be filled. Fees at the golf course may increase.
Other changes made under Mahan’s new administration include:
u Hiring Michael Magguilli as a full-time attorney at a salary of $105,000. Mahan said he will do legal work that had been contracted to outside attorneys in the past administration, which cost the town additional money.
u An outside contractor was being paid $15,000 for the town Web site, and this is now being done in-house.
u Individuals who had worked with former Supervisor Mary Brizzell had limited duties, and these positions have been restructured and more responsibilities added to each job.
u Mahan said the town had no tracking system for requests for money and there must be an accounting of where town money is being spent and whether the expenses are legitimate. She pointed to a recent request for a $7 million electronic system to read water meters and said at this point the town doesn’t need it and cannot afford it.
Mahan wants to meet with board members who served during the past administration to get feedback on town finances.
She said nothing was left in the files in the supervisor’s office, a management style which surprised her. She describes herself as someone who has a hands-on management style and uses a collaborative approach .
She plans to cluster the town’s 28 departments by those with common interests.
This will allow her to communicate more easily with each department, which will allow more collaboration to avoid duplication and save the town money.
Mahan defeated six-term Republican Brizzell in a stunning upset in the November election. Three Democrats also won Town Board seats. During her campaign, Mahan focused on the town’s deficit and on restoring integrity to the town government.