By Dan Moffett
Ocean Ridge commissioners are waiting until the eleventh hour to approve a final budget for the new fiscal year while Town Manager Jamie Titcomb recalculates the numbers to try to correct a series of accounting errors.
This is the first budget Titcomb has produced for the town — taking over the work that former Town Clerk Karen Hancsak handled for some three decades before retiring early this year.
The commission hired Titcomb last October with the specific requirement that he would prepare the annual budget. His new approach and new format have resulted in several frustrating meetings for officials, and numbers that haven’t yet added up.
Vice Mayor Richard Lucibella said he spent hours trying to make sense of Titcomb’s accounting and uncovered too many significant errors.
“This is embarrassing,” Lucibella said. “I shouldn’t have to play detective.”
What was to have been a final budget meeting on Sept. 21 ended with commissioners voting to go into recess until Oct. 3 to give Titcomb more time to correct the mistakes.
Mayor Geoff Pugh told the town manager the bottom line is that his future in Ocean Ridge is tied to his numbers.
“In my 14 years, I’ve never, ever had this situation occur,” Pugh said. “To postpone a meeting because of a budget? I’m appalled. If it’s not right at the next meeting, in my opinion, there’s going to be a problem with your job. I’m being point blank here. Because … this is the whole reason that we hired you. You sat there and told us you knew how to do this budget.
“It’s your responsibility. It’s on your shoulders.”
While acknowledging its errors, Titcomb says this is a “transitional budget” from old ways of doing things to new that ultimately will provide more transparency for taxpayers.
He asked the commission for more time, saying the problems Lucibella cited were too complex to solve during the meeting. He said the issues involve “thousands of computations” across many spread sheets.
“My concern is to execute (changes) while you all sat here and wait is probably asking for error,” Titcomb said.
Accounting issues aside, Ocean Ridge remains in robust financial health, with property values rising 7.5 percent over the last year. In July, commissioners approved a maximum tax rate of $5.35 per $1,000 of assessed taxable value, 7.2 percent above the $4.99 rollback rate that would hold revenues flat.
By Dan Moffett