The board unanimously voted Monday to include the item in the capital article of the annual town meeting warrant. The article also features all other capital items endorsed by the committee, as well as a consolidated space-needs study that was originally two separate projects.
Bedford’s current product, made by KVS software, has several disadvantages, according to the town’s financial staff. And it is being phased out by the manufacturer. The favored replacement, made by Munis, has an initial price tag of more than $800,000.
The Capital Expenditure Committee, which is advisory, initially recommended against the purchase next year, and after the Select Board urged reconsideration, did not change its position.
“We don’t put capital proposals forward that aren’t priorities,” said Town Manager Sarah Stanton. “But we also like to go into town meeting hand-in-hand. Going to town meeting is a consensus-building process.”
Member William Moonan, the Select Board’s appointee on the Capital Expenditure Committee, said he thinks part of the opposition was the sudden insertion of the purchase into the process. Most major projects are part of a long-range plan, he said, which “gives the committee a chance to ask questions over time and get used to the idea that this is going to happen.”
“A lot more information has been delivered since late October,” he continued, “but there are still people concerned about the ability to source the accounting system from other vendors.” He acknowledged that “there aren’t a lot of vendors.”
“It’s important to have consensus,” said member Bopha Malone. “But our employees are telling us. It’s important to listen and be able to help with their quality of work.” She added that the price is not likely to be less if the town waits another year.
“The need to replace our financial system is pretty obvious,” commented Board Chair Margot Fleischman. “Our current system will need to be replaced no matter what. But we need to recognize that there’s more work to be done to explain the issue and coalesce people around us.”
Select Board member Edward Pierce stressed that the KVS system is “very limited in this state. Munis has won that battle.” He acknowledged that the request should have been submitted to the Capital Expenditure Committee sooner; “we are kind of violating the rule under which CapEx operates.” Pierce also pointed out that there would be additional operating expenses, under Munis, not only three years of overlap during conversion but also increased monthly charges.
Member Emily Mitchell said her father-in-law uses an appropriate metaphor: “If you have to swallow a frog, don’t stare at it for too long. I don’t see the benefits of waiting; all I see are risks, more months with a system that’s creaky and prone to human error.” The replacement is “big and expensive — and we’ve just got to do it.”
Also at Monday’s virtual meeting, Stanton briefly updated the Select Board on preparation of the proposed fiscal 2023 municipal budget. “It is a tight year for budgets,” she said, particularly in areas such as contracted services and equipment in departments like Facilities and Public Works.
“We are doing yeoman’s work to address the needs of departments and make sure we have adequate support, while being mindful of the Finance Committee’s 2.5 percent guideline,” she said, noting that the budget increase guideline for education is 3.25 percent.