By Hiroko Sato
DUNSTABLE -- At Special Town Meeting on Tuesday night, selectmen are expected to ask residents to fund the town-administrator position, which has remained vacant since the post was created in 2007.
For selectmen, hiring a town administrator is a way to let a professional take care of day-to-day business so that they can finally focus on their real job, which is policy-making, says Selectman Walter Alterisio.
For others, however, it seems like the beginning of the end of the rural Dunstable that has refused to modernize. The Finance Committee, which agrees with selectmen that the town could use a professional manager, also wants selectmen to hold off on hiring a town administrator a little longer, saying they must draft the flow chart and define the responsibility of all personnel at Town Hall first.
"The Finance Committee feels as though there are components to the management of Town Hall that need to be put in place before bringing this individual on," Finance Committee Chairman Ron Mikol said of a town administrator.
Town Meeting agreed to create the town-administrator position four years ago after selectmen said municipal business has grown complex over the years and the town would be better off to let a professional handle it.
Town Meeting was not asked to fund the position right away, however. Selectmen then asked the state Department of Revenue to conduct a free financial audit, and the agency also recommended, among other things, for the town to establish a central administrative position for management of day-to-day activities.
Selectmen hope to first hire an interim town administrator, who would work on a part-time basis for about a year. During that time, the board would figure out the true scope of the town administrator's responsibility required for Dunstable and could then hire a permanent town administrator, Alterisio said.
To pay for such an interim position, selectmen are asking Town Meeting to allocate $32,000 for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30. If the proposal passes, an interim position could be filled in January or February, Alterisio said.
But Mikol said the Finance Committee believes the town needs to piece together the mechanism of the new government system more before recruiting and hiring an interim town administrator.
And other people, particularly town officials and those who serve on various town boards, are nervous about what the change might mean for them and for the town, Alterisio said.
"One of them said, 'How long will it be before we have a Walmart in town?' " Alterisio said.
Alterisio said he wants people to understand hiring a town administrator would be to increase efficiency in town management and help locate alternative revenue sources, such as grants.
"A town administrator doesn't take the key to the town and run away with it," Alterisio said.
Planning Board member Brett Rock, who has said he wasn't sure about the need to hire a town administrator earlier this year, said Thursday he now believes it's time the town sought professional help and that it could financially pay off.
"I'm learning more toward supporting the town administrator's position," Rock said. "Let's give it a try."
Town Meeting will start at 7 p.m. at Swallow Union Elementary School.