By Dan Moffett
Recurring accounting problems in Ocean Ridge’s budgets have strained relations between Town Manager Jamie Titcomb and the Town Commission.
So much so that the commission approved a proposal from Commissioner Steve Coz to change Titcomb’s annual contract to a month-to-month agreement when it comes up for renewal in October.
“I’ve had various problems getting direction or getting results from Jamie,” Coz said. “I think he’s a true city manager. He’s incredibly process-oriented. But not results-oriented. We have a very tiny town here. And we need people who are much more results-oriented.”
Vice Mayor James Bonfiglio has complained that Titcomb didn’t inform the commission for months after a computer software glitch damaged the town’s monthly financial statements. Bonfiglio said even after the glitch was disclosed, Titcomb wasn’t accountable and blamed staff for not catching the problem sooner.
“It really wasn’t staff’s fault because the one that should be looking at this was ultimately the town manager,” Bonfiglio said.
Mayor Geoff Pugh says the main reason the commission hired Titcomb in 2015 was that he professed extensive experience with financial records and could take over the work of Karen Hancsak, the former town clerk who retired after handling the town’s books for three decades.
“I think Jamie is an excellent town manager but has a lack of experience in budgeting,” said Pugh, who complained that Titcomb’s budgets were “convoluted” and difficult to understand. “I don’t want to go through the budget process every time and ask, ‘What are you talking about?’ ”
Overall, commissioners agreed with Pugh that Titcomb has done a commendable job — except for budgeting, the assignment they consider most important. They said the town wasn’t missing any money but was losing a lot of time trying to make sense of the manager’s numbers.
Titcomb told commissioners he inherited an accounting system that was outdated and prone to error. He said he made improvements in procedures and upgraded software. Titcomb said turnover of critical personnel positions at Town Hall complicated his efforts to bring the administration up to speed.
“I work every day to try to make Ocean Ridge the best little town it can be,” Titcomb said during the July 10 town meeting. “I have extensive experience in finance and budgeting. I’ve been doing this for over 40 years.”
Pugh instructed Town Attorney Brian Shutt to negotiate a month-to-month agreement with Titcomb that will take effect when his current contract expires on Oct. 1. Commissioners said they want to get through this budget season, then reassess Titcomb’s performance.
Titcomb said that if no agreement is reached by Sept. 30, “I become a free agent again.”
In other business, on a 3-1 vote with Gail Aaskov absent, commissioners gave tentative approval to keeping the tax rate at $5.35 per $1,000 of taxable value, roughly 5 percent above the rollback rate. They scheduled public budget hearings beginning at 6 p.m. on both Sept. 11 and Sept. 21.
Commissioner Don MaGruder said he voted against the rate because he thought the town should have gone a bit higher with the preliminary maximum to allow itself some cushion to cover a growing list of possible expenditures.
“I’m very much in favor of lowering the millage rate. However, the law is very clear that once the millage rate is set it cannot be increased, only lowered,” MaGruder said. “To my mind, lowering or keeping the millage rate the same (at $5.35) before a full town budget is developed and agreed upon makes no sense.”