By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Pulaski already has 12 applications in the till for a new finance director, but Pulaski Town Council voted 4-2 Tuesday night to put the hiring process on hold.
Councilman Greg East proposed the process be put on hold because the town is talking with Pulaski County about having the county take over collection of town taxes.
Long-time Pulaski Finance Director Sherry Boyd recently announced she is retiring at the end of June.
“I know we’re currently seeking to fill that position. However, in light of the fact we had a motion … to open discussions with the county for the county to collect our taxes, if we follow through with that … that could significantly change the requirements for the position we’re currently referring to as the director of finance,” said East, who asked that the matter be placed on the agenda for Tuesday night’s council work session.
“While we can still allocate funds for (the position) in the upcoming budget, I’m for holding off on filling that position until we have fully vetted the responsibility for the tax collection being assumed by the county.”
Vice Mayor Joseph Goodman asked East if he is concerned “we may end up over-staffed in the finance department and we don’t want to risk that?”
East responded, “Yes, potentially.”
However, Councilman Dave Clark questioned whether it wouldn’t be “wise on our part” to continue seeking applications for the position in the event the joint tax collection proposal falls through. “We would be much more prepared for what we need to do at that point,” he said.
Goodman said he thinks it might be a good idea to “attack it from both fronts, but maybe hold off on giving an offer letter until we know for sure what we’re doing.”
Town Manager John Hawley pointed out that the job already has been advertised and 12 applications are on file “based on the current job description. So, I guess I need direction right now because we were getting ready to start scheduling interviews.”
Mayor Jeff Worrell said that while East might have a valid point, “I can’t support this. I can’t imagine not having a finance director.”
Worrell said he has no idea how long it will take to work out a joint tax collection with the county or if it will even work. He said it’s been considered in the past and never been accomplished.
“I can’t imagine leaving that position open,” said Worrell. “Even if you were to go ahead and schedule interviews with the applicants I don’t think it’s fair to the applicants to interview for a job you don’t know when or if it will even be available.”
East said he wouldn’t support interviewing the applicants.
“If we were, in fact, to hold off on hiring that position, my fear is, if we are to move forward, which is a very good possibility given that we are all county citizens and our names and addresses are all in the county database. So really, you end up talking about a difference in percentages of taxes being collected. So, how difficult is that to change or to adapt over to the county collecting those taxes? I don’t know,” said East. “The feedback I’ve gotten from different sources is that it may not be that difficult, it doesn’t seem that difficult. Obviously, we don’t know for certain until we fully vet it.”
He continued, “My fear is we hire a high dollar, well-educated director of finance and then find that we don’t necessarily need one. That puts us in a very awkward position. That would certainly be much more, it would be much worse to hire someone and later down the road say, ‘Oh, by the way, we don’t need you. We don’t need your services.’ I think that would certainly be more unfair than accepting applications and just not moving forward.”
Hawley said there’s a lot more that goes into the finance director position than just tax collections. “There’s preparation of the budget, accounting …,” he said.
“I can’t imagine us not needing a finance director regardless of how the tax collection issue comes out with the county; and I don’t know how difficult it is to do (joint tax collection) or not,” said Worrell. “To have a department without a finance director would do far more harm. I can’t imagine having a department down there with no director.”
East said, “That’s not exactly what I’m saying. I’m looking at the potential for a downgrade of the position.
“You would still, obviously, have management requirements for the business license aspect of it and the water fees and for a number of reasons, budgeting reasons, but would it rise to the occasion of the requirements for the current position or rise to the need of the current position?” asked East.
“I think there’s a good possibility that it won’t, which means while we’ll still have management in place long-term, should this work out, it could be less expensive. All I’m asking is that we at least understand what those requirements are going to be six months to a year from now before we make a decision to hire someone who, ultimately, may end up over-qualified,” he said.
“All I can say is, working with the finance director for 14 years, there’s a whole lot more to it than tax collecting,” Hawley interjected.
Worrell said council could downgrade the position later if it was warranted. “We have a finance director who has already announced her day of departure and we’ve already advertised and accepted applications; and to the point we’re ready to start interviewing. I would strongly recommend we move forward with that.”
East said he thinks it would be difficult to downgrade the position once someone is on board. “If you bring somebody in that’s qualified at the current level of requirements and you bring them in at ‘X’ number of dollars, six months to a year from now, I don’t want to be the one to tell them that their position is downgraded and they’re going to have to take a pay cut.”
At that point, East made a motion that “the current vacancy for director of finance for the town be held vacant pending a full review and understanding of the revised position requirements should the county of Pulaski agree to assume some or all of the duties which the current position entails.”
Goodman seconded the motion.
“I would remind you that just a few minutes ago you made a motion to have the town manager place additional duties on the finance department, now you made a motion to hold off on hiring a finance director,” Worrell said to East.
Worrell was referring to an earlier vote by council instructing the town manager have the finance department start using the Virginia Department of Taxation Debt Setoff program to capture tax returns and lottery winnings from those who owe taxes.
“I’m aware of my motions, mayor,” East responded.
Hawley pointed out that the motion also was being made with no definite timeline for when there will be an answer on the feasibility of joint tax collection. “My guess is after July 1,” he added.
At that point Henry Avenue resident Clark Payne, a regular attendee at council meetings, interjected from the front row, “There should be no further discussion.”
In response, Hawley said, “And the citizens can be quiet.”
Councilman H.M. Kidd agreed with Mayor Worrell.
“I think the town is in need of a finance director regardless of the tax situation because the job is more detail oriented than a lot of people think,” he said. “If we could get Mrs. Boyd to stick around a while longer we wouldn’t have to worry about it, but that’s beside the point.”
East said holding off on filling the position will “give us time to fully vet that and understand that, and if that’s correct, then we’ll know and we’ll be 100 percent certain as we move forward.”
“There’s nothing to say we can’t try to get this vetted out in two weeks to a month and turn around and say, ‘Bad idea,’ ‘Good idea,’ and move forward,” Goodman added.
East’s motion passed 4-2 with Clark and Kidd casting the sole dissenting votes.