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Municipal Spotlight: MacKinnon Keeps a Close Watch on Bellingham’s Budget

Mar 28, 2019 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson
written by KEN HAMWEY, Bulletin Staff Writer

Every day that Mary MacKinnon arrives for work at the Bellingham Municipal Center she gets involved in a numbers game. Because numbers make her tick.

The 50-year-old MacKinnon, who was hired last September, serves as the town’s Chief Financial Officer and to say she’s qualified for the position is an understatement. After graduating from the University of New Hampshire, where she majored in economics, MacKinnon worked as Assistant Town Accountant/Data Processing Coordinator for the town of Reading. After 2-1/2 years, she joined Admins Inc., a software firm whose focus is on financial management at the municipal level. After 20 years with Admins, MacKinnon moved on to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and worked for the Division of Local Services.

“In my role as CFO in Bellingham, I’m the keeper of all the town’s financial records, and I oversee all accounting revenue and assessment functions,” she said. “The offices of treasurer, accounting and assessor are all under my umbrella.”

Although each day as Bellingham’s CFO is different, MacKinnon primarily deals with managing the town’s budget, answering taxpayer questions, preparing articles and budgets for Town Meeting and providing training and support to town departments.

“Taxpayer questions might involve interest on late payments,” MacKinnon said. “Or when a house is sold, outstanding payments to the town (water, sewer, trash or property taxes) have to be finalized. Managing the budget deals with making sure invoices are charged to the correct accounts and ensuring that we have enough money to complete a specific project. Training and support to town departments are offered to more effectively use the town’s software system.”

Her interaction with individual departments starts in the fall when department heads begin developing their budgets, using the parameters outlined. “I’ll provide training on the software to enter their budgets, and [Town Administrator] Denis Fraine and I will meet with the leaders to discuss their budgets and make final recommendations,” said MacKinnon, who currently serves as a FinCom member in Kingston, where she resides with her husband and two sons.
The personable MacKinnon labels Bellingham’s financial health as “good”; however, she tempers that rating with a mild warning. “The town has limited resources to fund its operating budget,” she said. “It’s a tight situation. For fiscal year 2020, our net state aid is projected to be lower than for fiscal year 2019.”

As the watchdog of each department’s budget, MacKinnon insists that the first line of defense in maintaining effective budgeting principles is the department head. Commenting on Bellingham’s spending practices, she views the town as fiscally conservative. “That’s evident because Bellingham has never had a Proposition 2-1/2 override,” she noted.
MacKinnon brings a variety of strengths to the table as CFO. Several that stand out are her municipal experience, attention to detail, project management skills, an ability to communicate effectively and people skills.

“There are several attributes that I believe are necessary to be a capable CFO,” MacKinnon said. “They include understanding rules and regulations, having a strong background in accounting, being able to multi-task, and being a problem-solver and interacting well with people.”

A native of Dorchester, MacKinnon is quick to list what she likes about being Bellingham’s CFO. “I enjoy working with numbers,” she said; “and I love the nuances of municipal finance. There are a lot of rules and regulations in municipal finance and you have to navigate your way through them. I also like working with the various department heads. Each one plays a role and we all work independently to make the town function. They’re all very cooperative.”
The most challenging aspect of MacKinnon’s job? “There’s just not enough hours in a day to accomplish what I’d like to achieve,” she said.

MacKinnon says the transition to her role as CFO has been smooth. “When I started last September, it was intense because we had to meet many deadlines,” she noted. “Nevertheless, I enjoy the job’s responsibilities and I hope to be here for a long time.”
Whether she’s juggling figures to make a specific budget fall into line or serving as a resource to answer questions on articles at Town Meeting, Mary MacKinnon is comfortable in her role as Bellingham’s CFO because she’s always involved in a numbers game.






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