FOXBORO — The town remains on sound financial footing, validated by a strategic program to attack future debt obligations and minimize borrowing costs, according to an overview of the town’s most recent audit.
“In my view the Town of Foxboro is doing an excellent job,” Robert Brown of R.E. Brown & Company, a Mendon-based certified public accounting firm hired by the town to review its books, recently told selectmen.
Brown had been invited by Town Manager William Keegan to update board members on the audit findings for fiscal 2018, which ended June 30, 2018.
Brown said that municipal audits are normally completed roughly seven to eight months after the fiscal year closes, timed to coincide with the spring budget cycle. In this case, however, the process was encumbered by personnel transitions in the town financial department.
“We recognized you were in a transition but still managed to get things done efficiently,” Brown explained.
Delivering a mostly positive, if spare, presentation to the board, Brown said local officials deserve credit for their strategic approach to maintaining operational goals while simultaneously managing debt.
Brown was subsequently peppered with a series of questions on the town’s financial practices by Selectman David Feldman, who asked if the board should modify its policies.
“We don’t audit to the policies,” Brown replied. “We audit to the law.”
Brown was more verbose in his assessment of the town’s efforts to address so-called “OPEB” costs — post-employment benefits, mostly in the form of retiree healthcare and life insurance.
Along with pension obligations, these future costs have been budget busters for cities and towns across the Bay State. By anticipating future healthcare costs and mortality rates, actuaries can calculate what will be owed to retirees for benefits decades down the road. Ideally, cities and towns would then set aside enough money to cover these future costs.
Not many actually do, however.
“I think you would be in the top 20 percent of our clients,” Brown said of Foxboro’s financial standing. “You’re doing well by comparison, especially on OPEB.”
Also in attendance were advisory committee members Thomas Freeman, Bernard Dumont and Larry Ooi, who wondered such future costs really can be forecast with precision — given the complexities inherent to personnel management.
“There always will be factors that are going to change in the future,” Brown said. “It’s not a perfect science, obviously.”
Keegan suggested that board members could
In fairness, Keegan pointed out that Brown’s role as an auditor is to certify the accuracy of past budgets. To better predict the likelihood of meeting future fiscal goals he suggested enlisting the expertise of Daniel Sherman of Wakefield, who provides actuarial services to Norfolk County.
“It’s a fair question,” Keegan said of Dumont’s query. “But Bob is an auditor, he’s not a forecaster; he’s probably not the best person to answer it.”