Franklin County towns exploring changes to accountant positions

Seven towns around Franklin County are re-examining their town accountant positions due to a change in policies with the current software system. (Image use requires reference to www.SeniorLiving.org.)

Seven towns around Franklin County are re-examining their town accountant positions due to a change in policies with the current software system. (Image use requires reference to www.SeniorLiving.org.) KEN TEEGARDIN/CREATIVE COMMONS

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 01-21-2024 2:22 PM

Modified: 01-21-2024 3:13 PM


Seven towns around Franklin County are re-examining their town accountant positions due to a change in policies with the current software system contracted through the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG).

For nearly 20 years, FRCOG has offered towns with populations under 2,000 a fee-for-service accounting program that took care of their needs, but that is soon changing, as the software company that provides licenses for the program, MIP Fund Accounting, is requiring communities to acquire their own license, rather than using the one FRCOG provides.

“We would just charge the towns $750 a year, and we’ve done that for a long time to cover our cost for the license and software maintenance and support,” said Bob Dean, FRCOG’s director of municipal services. “Each town is going to have to either set up their own license with that software or move to a different software.”

Buckland, Conway, Gill, New Salem, Shelburne, Wendell and Whately are the seven towns currently enrolled in the program, which launched in 2005, according to FRCOG’s website.

Dean said towns have the option of remaining in the program, but FRCOG will need to reassess the cost if they do. Another option, which is being explored by at least four communities, would be to directly hire one of the accountants already working with FRCOG to serve as their own employee.

That is an option being explored by New Salem and Wendell. New Salem Town Coordinator Kathy Neal said the town is in talks with Wendell about a regional governmental agreement. The two towns have the same accountant through FRCOG, Erin Degnan. Neal said this partnership makes sense, both from a personnel standpoint and geographically, as the towns border one another.

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“She’s a good accountant — we don’t want to lose her,” Neal said.

This agreement would involve both towns purchasing the software and paying the annual fees, and it’s expected that salary and benefits would remain approximately the same. While the price of the software itself wouldn’t change under the new agreement, Neal said the annual fees could be an obstacle, as they’d be much higher than when FRCOG paid them.

“It was $750 a year and now we’re talking thousands [of dollars],” Neal said.

This possibility is also being looked at in Whately and Shelburne, as the two selectboards have authorized their respective town administrators to explore a shared-accountant intermunicipal agreement — with Whately likely serving as the lead.

While Shelburne Town Administrator Terry Narkewicz and Whately Town Administrator Brian Domina said the agreement is still in its early stages, Domina provided a brief update to his town’s Selectboard last week.

“There’s still some details that need to be worked out,” Domina told the Selectboard, noting the current draft agreement would split the accountant’s time and costs between each town and would be in effect for three years.

If both towns sign the agreement, they plan on retaining current FRCOG accountant Dara Laplante, but she would instead be hired as a municipal employee by Whately, rather than a FRCOG one.

The proposed agreement is another example of the growing regionalization trend among the county’s smaller communities. In Shelburne, though, sharing is nothing new, as the town shares a variety of services with Buckland, including a sewer system in Shelburne Falls, Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School and, most recently, a police department.

“If that all works, it will provide us with a lot of continuity with the service we are already using and feel confident in,” said Shelburne Selectboard member Andrew Baker. “We’re regionalized all over the place. … There’s a lot of sharing going on.”

Regardless of whether towns opt to stay with the program, Dean said FRCOG will help guide them through the process.

“We’ll continue to provide the accounting services as long as towns want it and can afford to pay what we have to charge,” Dean said. “We’ll do what we can to help the transition in whatever direction it makes sense for the towns to go in. That’s why we’re here.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081. Athol Daily News Editor Max Bowen contributed to this report.