The budget that normally would have been presented Tuesday, Sept. 3, is on hold as councilors weigh the best way to finalize the city’s annual financial plan.
Mayor Jim Paine proposed seeking professional accounting services on an as-needed basis as the city continues its search for a new finance director, and the new assistant finance director gets up to speed. Ashley Puetz, the new assistant finance director, started in her new role last week. A new finance director still hasn’t been appointed.
However, councilors had questions about the firm and the uncapped expenses that could range from $75 to $250 per hour in addition to travel expenses and administration.
Paine proposed paying for the services of CliftonLarsonAllen out of Eau Claire through the finance department’s salary budget.
The scope of the work included finalizing the general fund budget, managing the capital improvement budget, mastering the new bond issuing process, preparing tax levy statements, and day-to-day accounting through the end of the year.
Councilor Dan Olson said he had some concerns because while the hourly rates were available, there was no information on the potential cost for administration and travel expenses.
“How do we know what this is going to cost us?” Olson asked.
Olson said there had been discussions about possibly hiring the city’s now retired finance director, Jean Vito, to get through the transition, noting the city is behind schedule for the council to begin reviewing the budget.
After retiring, Vito hung out her shingle to offer private accounting services.
“We’re opening up our wallets and I think we had the solution in possibly obtaining Jean Vito’s services,” Olson said. “I’m not comfortable doing this on a cost-plus way of doing business and not having a vehicle ‘not to exceed’ … I’m not comfortable with this at all.”
It’s discomfort that was shared by Council President Brent Fennessey.
“I get the urgency of this,” Fennessey said. He questioned whether it would impede the process to send the proposal to the Finance Committee, which meets next week, to flesh out the answers to questions councilors have about the proposal before the Council considers it in two weeks.
“The biggest issue I have is there is no cap,” Fennessey said. “This could end up costing $10,000 … or $200,000.”
Mayor Jim Paine said there is work the city was hoping to do immediately, but there was no emergency that would prevent the Council from giving the proposal further consideration.
“There is work to do,” Paine said. “We are behind, but I don’t think it creates urgency.”
The Council referred the proposal to the Finance Committee, which meets at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, in Room 204 of the Government Center.