Waterford's finance director stepping down

Waterford — Unless one is hired in the next 18 days, the town will be without a finance director going into 2020.

The current finance director, Kevin McNabola, handed in his resignation on Nov. 20. His last day on the job is Dec. 31.

McNabola's decision to step down was made without ill will. While town leaders are disappointed to lose what they say is a diligent and knowledgeable employee, they wish McNabola the best and understand his choice to move to a bigger job as the chief financial officer for the City of Meriden.

"He's done a great job for the town, and I hate to see him go because turnover's an issue," Board of Finance Chairman Ron Fedor said.

For McNabola, who lives in West Haven, the move is practical. His commute to Meriden will be far shorter than driving to and from Waterford — half an hour versus an hour and 10 minutes. More important, Meriden is bigger, requires a bit more responsibility and means a bigger role for McNabola.

"I loved working here," McNabola said. "Great people, hard-working town. I really enjoyed my stay here, but I was given an opportunity in Meriden, which, for me, is closer to home. It's a larger city and career opportunity for me."

McNabola said the town can probably last two weeks without a finance director before it has to burden people with extra work. That gives the town exactly one month to find the right hire.

First Selectman Rob Brule praised McNabola for being pleasant and professional. Brule said hiring a new finance director is an immediate priority for the town.

"I will admit to that I did not sleep (the night McNabola resigned)," Brule said. "'Hey Rob,' he said, 'congratulations on being first selectman, and by the way, I'm leaving.' 'Great! Was it something I said?' I always learned everything happens for a reason. And I take that approach. I'm happy for Kevin."

Brule, who was elected first selectman last month, is thankful to McNabola for staying on as interim finance director through the town's general obligation bond refunding process. He also said the town is looking for a finance director who can commit to staying on for a long time in order to build continuity.

Fedor said he wants the next finance director to be "somebody who lives in town."

"It's not a matter of just the qualifications, I do seriously believe we need to get someone who at least lives near Waterford," said Fedor, who has worked with three permanent finance directors. "One of the things we have to do is ask what's it going to take to get someone to stay around four or five years at least."

A job has been posted through the town's human resources department with a listed salary range of $98,000 to $129,000. Some of the essential functions of the director, listed in the job posting, include managing personnel; coordinating financial planning; preparing financial information for bond offerings and making bond rating presentations; monitoring revenues and expenditures; and developing financial studies.

In McNabola's words, it's "more than being an accountant."

"You have the special revenue funds that you have to deal with, state and federal grants that fund some of your capital projects, and then you oversee the five-year capital plan, you work closely in monitoring pensions, there's also working with our elected treasurer, making sure investments are being selected in the best interest of the town," McNabola said. "You're almost like a quasi-operations finance manager."

As an undergraduate, McNabola attended Southern Connecticut State University. He went to the University of New Haven for graduate school. He went straight out of college into the private sector, and though he enjoyed it, he found it could be volatile.

After being elected to the Orange Board of Finance and serving eight years, McNabola became interested in municipal finance. He became the business manager in Orange, then finance director in West Haven before coming to Waterford and spending a year and eight months in town.

"These positions that are here at the municipal level, and even at the state level, they're not going anywhere," McNabola said. "They're stable jobs. They're good jobs, more secure."

By most accounts, McNabola leaves Waterford in a solid financial state. Standard & Poor's, a financial services company that conducts research, noted Waterford's "adequate economy," "strong budgetary performance with operating surpluses in the general fund," "strong institutional framework" and increasing commercial growth.

S&P did take note of Waterford's highly concentrated tax base due to the Millstone Power Station, which pays about 32 percent of the town's taxes.

"We've built long-term forecasts in the event that the Millstone plant devalued or wasn't in town anymore," McNabola said. "It would require an increase in the tax rate, because personal property is devaluing on an average of 7% per year."

That said, McNabola acknowledged Millstone recently agreed to stay in Waterford for at least another 10 years, and he expects the power plant to remain for at least the next 30 years.

"I think the town should be proactive in looking for different sites and open space to evaluate and hopefully bring in new growth," McNabola said. "How are we looking to grow our grand list? What developments do we have in the pipeline? I think you're going to have to bring in different businesses and entities that would complement Millstone."

s.spinella@theday.com

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