Councilor-elect promotes centralized financial control


Marlborough – The councilor elect for Ward 1 in Marlborough is moving to City Hall after spending four years on the School Committee, and hopes to take lessons learned at the school district along with him.

Among those lessons is that centralized financial control is key to a city's good health.

Joseph Delano is replacing current Ward 1 Councilor Robert Katz, who is retiring after 10 years on the City Council. Delano will be sworn in Monday Jan. 7, 2008, along with the other elected officials.

In an interview, Delano said the biggest change he has seen in his time in the school district has been a large increase in financial accountability.

"I look at the school department as a $50 million business and there have been times in the last few years where we didn't know where we were financially," Delano said.

Delano said school principals used to be able to switch money between accounts much more freely. Now large transfers must come before the finance committee of the school district to gain a recommendation and then be passed by the full School Committee.

He also said there is better accountability and oversight for individual line items.

"If one line item was not being spent and yet the next year there was another request for that line item again, we would ask why," Delano said.

Consultants have also been cut back severely, according to Delano, after "hundreds of thousands" of dollars were spent over previous years.

Delano said he hopes to take his experiences from the School Committee to the council. Some issues, such as the school budget, will be familiar, while others will not.

Delano's biggest priority will be creating a chief financial officer for the city. Currently the financial affairs for the school district and the rest of the city are separated. Delano said the benefits to combining those roles in one office would be considerable, and the principle has been proven to work, with city services and school district services already successfully combined for the departments handling public facilities and information technology.

"I think this next position [combined financial officer] is vital," Delano said. "We've had mistakes on both the school department side and the city side that have been quite damaging."

He pointed to a series of missteps that might have been avoided. An $800,000 duplication in the last school budget resulted in money being sent back to the city's general budget and not being spent on students, he said. In recent years, the city lost a $2 million lawsuit over the arrest and conviction of a man, which was a major financial hit because the city did not carry the right kind of insurance. And the city saw a crisis of over $4 million in unfunded health insurance liabilities, which also might have been avoided, Delano added.

Other initiatives Delano would like to see implemented include improving the physical facilities available to seniors, revamping the trash system to increase recycling and decrease cost, and continuing to improve city services without making tax-cutting the biggest priority. At the same time, issues specific to Ward 1 would be his most important priority.

Delano said he expected life in the City Council would have its fill of frustrations, as his stint on the School Committee did.

"I think it's somewhat of a natural progression and even with the School Committee, you want to change the world and you find you can't do it on the first day or even the first year," Delano said.

Until January, Delano will sit on the sidelines of council meetings, learning the ropes and waiting to take his place at the inner circle of desks occupied by sitting councilors.