Barlow Casey is pictured at the public interviews on Thursday. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

Town Manager Donna Barlow Casey said the town is seeking a higher qualified professional to run the town’s finances. (File photo by Courtney Lamdin)

After months of sorting out accounting confusion, the town of Milton is advertising for a highly qualified finance director to oversee the department.

The position has been vacant since November, when Joanne Davis left the post; town treasurer John Gifford has filled in since then.

The selectboard recently retooled the job description, which empowers the director with more responsibility to monitor finances and forecast spending, town manager Donna Barlow Casey said.

“It’s clear we’re asking this person to be our chief finance officer,” she said. “It’s not just the day-to-day approve the expenditures and make sure the books are in good order and that staff is functioning well.”

Barlow Casey said several factors contributed to the shift, one being the selectboard’s recent focus on “buttoning up” financial procedures and practices.

For months, town staff has weeded through how grants and impact fees were applied through the capital improvement plan.

“Some of the checks and balances got lost,” Barlow Casey said. “What we’ve found is sort of misplacements of information, so either something was charged to a different account than you would think it should be or something wasn’t captured correctly.”

Consultant Peter Anthony, whom the town paid $2,350, found nothing was illegally spent or recorded, she added.

The new finance director will also work closely with the planning department, particularly given new tax increment financing rules.

“We’re ambitious enough with our economic development desires to know there are going to be a lot of requirements on the planning department,” Barlow Casey said. “The need to have somebody with a bigger skillset is kind of inherent in the size of the community we’re managing.”

The job description now requires up to six years in an administrative municipal finance role, whereas two were required previously. An accounting certification is preferred, it reads.

Given these higher requirements, the board authorized increasing the position’s pay grade by two steps, increasing the maximum compensation from $79,000 to $92,000 in fiscal year 2017, town data shows.

This matches rates in surrounding communities, Barlow Casey said. Other positions at this level include the police chief, town clerk/treasurer with finance duties – previously selectman John Cushing’s position – and a public works director with engineering background.

The town will use either contingency funds or fund balance to cover the increase in FY17. An employment posting ends in early June.

At the same time, the town will not seek to fill the recently vacated public works director role.

Roger Hunt, a town employee for 27 years, resigned March 10 after being continually frustrated with the selectboard’s questioning of his methods to resolve a water leak and how to manage capital projects, he said.

The town won’t fill that position – one that was created in 2011 and that Hunt served in since September 2013 – opting to “flatten the department” and give each section’s superintendents more responsibility, Barlow Casey said.

“I want to see if we can structure the operation so that we keep that small-town, direct contact with working professionals,” she said.

That being said, someone needs to review projects and plans; the town will opt for at least a year to hire a seasonal engineer or a clerk of the works for paving. It has already retained former selectman Stu King to do the latter job this fall, she said.

“I don’t want to rush too much in public works,” Barlow Casey said. “We’re going to see whether this works, and if not, we can say, ‘OK we got through the year, and it’s not really working; here’s why, and we do need somebody at the helm because we’re that big.’”

Human resources’ Erik Wells agreed, saying Hunt did great service to the town, and his departure allowed the town to consider a new structure.

“It’s an opportunity to look at moving forward,” he said. “Not to detract from the people who served in that role before – it’s just taking a different approach.”

Hunt is also taking a new approach in his career. He recently started working for Uber, an app-based taxi service, and formed a sole proprietorship called Cobble Hill Livery. He wants to transport people needing a verified driver for outpatient procedures or just a ride back from the bars.

“I love living here and I’m hoping [Milton residents] start giving me a call … Even if I lose money on it, I’ll get them there,” he said. “It’s hard to walk away from a $70,000 a year job. I’m not going to make anywhere near that with Uber, but at least I have my peace of mind.”