Select Board Contests CapEx Reservations regarding New Financial Software and a Municipal Space Needs Survey

December 29, 2021

The Select Board is contesting two recommendations by the Capital Expenditure Committee. And it is likely that they will be reconsidered.

The committee, which reviews all town and school capital proposals, disapproved a plan to replace the town’s accounting software for a first-year cost of around $828,000. The committee wanted to see more comparative products.

Also receiving thumbs down were a proposed space-needs survey in all municipal buildings and a separate study for Town Center. The committee wanted to see consolidation.

Recommendations were presented to the Select Board at a virtual meeting Monday. The Capital Expenditure Committee endorsed all other projects from the schools and town departments.

Financial officials want to replace what they call an archaic, inefficient financial software package for a three-year cost of more than $1 million beginning in fiscal year 2023.

Maryellen Carter, Capital Expenditure Committee chair, explained that her panel opposed purchase of the Munis Financial Management system because “we didn’t feel like all of the information was available. This project may not be ready.” She pointed out that the proposal was just introduced this year; normally expenditures are components of a six-year plan.

“We wanted better evaluation of alternatives,” including costs, Carter said in answer to a question from Select Board member Edward Pierce.

Town Manager Sarah Stanton said the financial software is “the backbone of the town.” She noted that the need to replace the current system has been mentioned for years; it was recommended by the town’s auditors in 2018.

Four vendors were contacted about municipal financial systems, and Munis was the only realistic option, Stanton said. The town’s current system, made by KVS, is being discontinued and must be replaced. The current contract has very limited support service, she added.

“We have received quotes that were not complete; we are going back and forth with the vendors,” said Stanton. Margot Fleischman, Select Board chair, commented, “The others’ responses leave me uneasy. We can’t seem to even get timely quotes.”

“There is no perfect system,” Stanton acknowledged, but KVS in Bedford requires 161 manual journal entries per month. She told Pierce, “There’s a tremendous amount of human inefficiency that adds up to a lot of dollars.”

The committee only makes recommendations, it does not have veto power. But historically the town leadership seeks unanimity from the arms of government. Asked by Pierce if the Capital Expenditure committee could revisit the issue, Carter noted that the most recent information used in the deliberations was provided back on Nov. 3.

“I’m still hearing new information,” she said, and the committee probably would have an opportunity to review it. Select Board member William Moonan said early January would not be too late.

Select Board member Emily Mitchell said she was surprised by the committee’s recommendation, and felt that the case for the replacement had been made. “The more that I learn about KVS, the more I realize we have excellent financial reporting despite KVS.”

“We are creating a lot of unnecessary risk—why wouldn’t we move away from that?” she continued. “It doesn’t help to wait; we are creating more opportunities for error.”

Answering a question from board member Bopha Malone, the town manager said only a handful of municipalities still use the KVS system. Amy Fidalgo, assistant town manager of operations, said almost 250 Massachusetts towns and cities are using Munis. “It is the standard.”

Stanton emphasized that the preference for Munis has nothing to do with recent personnel changes on the town finance office. “The new finance director has bent over backward to learn KVS and the finance practices of Bedford.” She added that the school business office also supports the change.

Carter said her committee also wanted to signal to the Select Board that the space needs of the town should be addressed “holistically.” The municipal study was pegged at $122,000, with another $60,000 requested to evaluate space in Town Center. Carter also noted that the committee opposes any additional “footprint.”

The board and the manager said they would be amenable to consolidating the space-needs studies. Stanton explained that Town Center expansion has always been a discrete budget line, and this plan would focus on Kids Club. Holistic, Fleischman said, was “the spirit of what we were trying to accomplish.”

Stanton applauded the effort of Fidalgo and municipal department heads for the research and preparation of the details presented to the Capital Expenditure Committee. The committee has six at-large members and one member each from the Finance Committee, School Committee, and Select Board. Carter explained that the panel met several times for more than two months, beginning in September,

The group reviewed fiscal 2023 proposals in detail from municipal departments and schools, and also discussed projects targeted for the next five years. Among the expenditures recommended were:

  • Public works: study and design of Shawsheen Cemetery expansion, $669,500; water and sewer projects, almost $1 million; hardscape improvements $290,000; vehicle replacement $1 million (about half of that for a new vacuum truck); road resurfacing $1.6 million.
  • Schools: information technology replacements, $536,900; space modifications, flooring, interior painting, furniture, office copiers, about $280,000.
  • Facilities: exterior painting at the middle and high schools, air-conditioning parts of Lane School, $218,000; Lane School elevator repair, $60,000; bathrooms at Sabourin Field, $120,488; heating and cooling upgrades in the fire station, $305,000.

Major projects down the road that the committee reviewed included boiler, roof, and Univent replacements in the schools; cemetery expansion; alignment of The Great Road at Willson Park; water mains; and betterments at the site of the former landfill on Carlisle Road, now called the compost center.

Mitchell remarked, “I really appreciate the committee’s diligence.” Select Board Chair Margot Fleischman added, “I think Bedford can really be proud of our capital planning process.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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