New manager to tweak town’s budget process

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Sorting out the town’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) account activity has taken a lot of Town Manager Justin VanDongen’s time in preparing the town’s budget for fiscal year 2020.

At an October meeting of the select board, VanDongen reported that he planned to through the town’s finances over the last five years to sort out some confusing practices. VanDongen was most concerned about how the town’s CIP accounts appear to have been used more like expense accounts.

Working with auditors on last year’s town budget, VanDongen reported to selectmen during the Dec. 27 meeting that he was getting the budget process closer to what’s standard practice in other towns.

At that meeting, selectmen were presented with a CIP inventory and schedule of necessary improvements from each of the town’s department heads. Items put into the CIP fund/accounts for FY20 will also include a narrative in order to give future town officials more information about funding decisions.

“Basically, we’re going to start kind of fresh,” VanDongen said to selectmen. “So if there is a question, we won’t have to fumble around for it… It’s going to be a bit of a sticker shock. The appropriations for CIPs are going to be significantly higher than they have been in the past.”

Not necessarily because they are higher, VanDongen explained, but because they will be in the appropriate place on the budget to prepare for equipment and project improvements and replacements.

He also told selectmen that the lack of clarity in the CIP accounts was one of the reasons there was a hiccup in the town’s pursuit of an institution to work with for its investment policy. Selectmen approved a town investment policy earlier this fall and have not yet been able to secure a relationship with a bank.

Exact figures for the FY20 budget are still in the works, according to VanDongen, who said he is setting them up via Excel spreadsheets for easy adjustments during the process.

He is expecting to present an initial draft to the select board at their Jan. 8 meeting. The selectmen have budget workshops scheduled for Jan. 14, 15 and 16. After those meetings, the budget goes to the warrant committee for review.

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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