Last night, (Tuesday, Jan. 11), the Board of Finance (BOF) held its first meeting of the new calendar year, focusing on the Town’s immediate need to hire a new CFO and the possible introduction of a new staff position — a Town Administrator who would have oversight of the Finance Department — all at the same time the budget planning process for the next fiscal year is about to begin.
Replacing CFO Anne Kelly-Lenz
The board acknowledged the recent, unexpected resignation of Chief Financial Officer Anne Kelly-Lenz, who serves as dual CFO for both the Town of Wilton and the Board of Education (BOE).
“We’re all broken-hearted about you leaving,” BOF chair Michael Kaelin told Kelly-Lenz. “The most important thing we have to talk about tonight is how to replace you [and] how to get somebody else in here to do the job that you are doing.”
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice attended the BOF meeting to brief the board on the status of the search. With Kelly-Lenz’s departure date quickly approaching on Jan. 14, the search for a replacement is taking on some urgency.
Vanderslice began by highlighting the benefits the town has achieved by consolidating the CFO function across the Town and BOE, noting that few towns have successfully implemented a dual CFO role.
The open position was posted on the Town website last Friday, Jan. 7, followed on Monday, Jan. 10 on other websites aimed at municipal and school financial personnel. Vanderslice also indicated direct outreach is being made to some CFOs in the area.
With at least one application already received, Vanderslice said she is “feeling better” about progress being made.
In the meantime, Anthony DeFelice, currently Wilton’s manager of financial reporting and planning, will take on some additional responsibilities. (The Town might also consider a part-time CFO for a transition period.)
The new CFO will be hired by the BOS and will report to the First Selectwoman. Vanderslice invited a member of the BOF to participate in interviewing candidates, if interested.
BOF Reaction to Town Administrator Proposal
In addition to finding a new CFO, Vanderslice is also advocating for creating the new position of Town Administrator, something the BOS members are expected to vote on at their next meeting on Monday, Jan. 18.
A new CFO, along with most other department heads, would report to the Town Administrator, if that position is approved.
In previous BOS meetings, Vanderslice has discussed the rationale for the new position in detail, asserting that such an administrator would support both the new CFO as well as the First Selectperson, by alleviating some of their time-consuming administrative duties, and ultimately enabling them to focus on more strategic issues and initiatives.
Members of the BOF questioned Vanderslice on various aspects of the new position, ranging from the expense to the reporting structure and how the role might impact a new CFO’s function.
BOF member Chris Stroup noted that, except for the BOF’s role in approving the BOS’ total budget, the BOF has little say when it comes to the new position. Nonetheless, Stroup offered his support for the idea, saying, “I endorse the plan.”
Alluding to feedback he said he received from the public, BOF member Matt Raimondi asked Vanderslice if there would be any reduction in her salary to offset the cost of the town administrator. Vanderslice responded that she would recommend a reduction, but other members of the BOS may or may not support that idea.
Raimondi also asked Vanderslice how other towns with a town administrator compensated their first selectperson. Vanderslice did not have specific data on hand, but indicated the salaries were very wide-ranging.
Using economic development efforts as an example, BOF member Sandy Arkell questioned Vanderslice on whether the Town would be better served by adding a revenue-producing position, rather than an administrative one.
While Vanderslice noted that the town administrator would likely identify some cost savings, Arkell said, “Cost containment is important, but revenue generation is really going to, I think, be a better way [forward].”
Vanderslice feels the growth will be there.
“Fortunately, we’ve got a line of people at the door, and projects are happening,” Vanderslice responded. “We’re going to see growth over the next few years.”
“A Point of Reckoning”
Kaelin offered strong support for adding a town administrator.
“I’m glad you’re doing it,” he told Vanderslice. “I think it’s necessary. I support it.”
“What I think is abundantly obvious to everybody is that this has really become too big of a job for just one person to do,” Kaelin said. “It’s not just the size and scope of the job, but it’s the skills, training and experience that’s necessary to properly do the job.”
Kaelin suggested the change — and associated cost — is probably overdue.
“We’re really at a point of reckoning in this town because we’ve been fortunate to have people like you that have the knowledge, training and experience to be able to do it,” Kaelin continued. “But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve been relying on volunteers. You’re not getting paid market rate for what you’re doing. We need to face up to this.”
“We need to get a professional administrator and we need to free the first selectperson up to do the things that your constituents really expect you to do. I don’t think there’s any question we need to do this, the challenge the Board of Finance is going to be faced with is how we pay for it, because we’ve been getting a bargain.”
Agreeing with Arkell’s earlier comment, Kaelin concluded, “We’re going to have to look for more ways to get revenue other than tax dollars.”
2022 Regular Meeting Schedule
For the most part keeping to their usual schedule of meeting on the second Tuesday of each month, the BOF agreed to a schedule for regular meeting dates for the new calendar year:
- February 8
- March 8
- April 12
- May 10
- June 14
- July 12
- August 9
- September 13
- October 11
- November 15
- December 13
Key BOF Dates and Deadlines for FY2023 Budget Process
The BOF has established key dates for its role in developing the budgets that will be presented at this year’s Annual Town Meeting.
- January 20: Superintendent’s budget presentation to BOE
- February 10: Joint BOF/BOE meeting to review proposed BOE budget
- February 15: Deadline for scheduling public hearings on BOE and BOS budget requests
- March 4: Deadline for BOE and BOS written budget submissions to BOF
- March 29: Deadline for conducting public hearings on BOE and BOS budget requests
- April 12: Deadline for recommending budget to the Annual Town Meeting
- May 3: Annual Town Meeting
Look for GOOD Morning Wilton‘s coverage of the entire budget planning process, including an upcoming story with everything residents need to know about how the town’s annual budget gets set.
Editor’s Note: GMW reached out BOF chair Michael Kaelin immediately following the meeting to clarify what public comment had been received by the BOF on the subject of the proposed town administrator position. The next morning, Jan. 12, Kaelin forwarded one letter sent by Wilton resident Barbara Holdridge, who had raised a concern about adding a town administrator before determining a cut in the First Selectperson’s salary, and expressed a belief that such a change in administration should be presented at the Annual Town Meeting.