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Municipal Spotlight As Bellingham’s CFO, Numbers Make Chuckran Tick

Heidi Chuckran has been on the job as Bellingham’s Chief Financial Officer for six months.

By KEN HAMWEY,
Bulletin Staff Writer
Heidi Chuckran has been on the job as Bellingham’s Chief Financial Officer for six months and there’s no denying that numbers make her tick.
“In my role as CFO, 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 the treasurer, accounting and assessor are all under my umbrella.’’
Although each day as a CFO is different, Chuckran primarily deals with managing and monitoring the town’s $80-million budget, answering taxpayers’ questions, preparing articles and departmental budgets for Town Meeting and coordinating training for town departments.
Preparation for the overall budget can be tedious and time-consuming, but that’s where the 50-year-old Chuckran rolls up her sleeves and gets into the financial trenches.
“I work with Town Administrator Denis Fraine to get the budget in balance,’’ Chuckran said. “We’ll sit down with the Select Board and inform them of the budget’s substance. Later on, there’s a Saturday workshop where all department heads present their budgets with Denis and myself available to answer questions. When all of the discussions are complete, then it’s time for the budget to be presented to residents for a vote at Town Meeting.’’

Chuckran’s role at Town Meeting is to ensure that any questions on the budget are answered, that the free-cash balance is known and to ensure that the Town Meeting process is clear.
A native of Brockton, Chuckran also monitors the town’s finances when a fiscal year is about to end.
“I make sure accounts are in line and there’s no overspending,’’ she said. “I also will reconcile the cash balance on hand with the treasurer, and accounts receivable must also be reconciled. September is when the books close for the fiscal year.’’
To be an effective CFO, key attributes are necessary and the graduate of Bridgewater State University’s background in banking, accounting and auditing are key assets.
“The important attributes for a CFO are to be adept in math and accounting, to know the state’s rules and regulations for municipal finance and to pay attention to detail,’’ she emphasized. “Other key characteristics are to be able to multi-task, to interact well with people, be an effective team leader and to be able to problem-solve.’’
Chuckran, who lives in Brockton, majored in political science in college but later took classes at Bridgewater State that enabled her to pass a state exam and obtain a license to be a certified public accountant (CPA). “A professor at Bridgewater State said I had ‘a knack for accounting’ and should pursue a CPA license,’’ she recalled.
Chuckran’s early career stops were positions with banking, insurance, and accounting firms before working for nine years for the city of Brockton as its auditor. Before arriving in Bellingham, she served as the town accountant in Mattapoisett for seven years.
Chuckran replaced Mary MacKinnon as Bellingham’s CFO but has leaned on her when questions arise. “We conduct zoom meetings and Mary has been crucial in making my transition go smoothly,’’ Chuckran said. “She’s helped with computer programs, community finances, bond ratings, borrowing, and budgets. She’s been awesome, willing to assist in a variety of areas.’’
Chuckran also has high praise for Fraine, now serving as Bellingham’s interim Town Administrator. “We work closely on budget matters,’’ she noted. “Denis is so knowledgeable. He’s sincere and has a great demeanor. He’s a gem.’’
Chuckran admires “the cooperative spirit’’ when working with department heads on budgets, spending and grants. “If they have questions about a purchase, I’m always willing to help.’’
The school department at times also works with Chuckran. “I review their warrant and advise them where to charge expenditures,’’ she said. 
Chuckran labels the town’s overall financial health as good. “The town’s leaders take a conservative approach,’’ she said, “Lots of growth keeps taxes low and Bellingham has the lowest tax bills in Norfolk County.’’
Six months may seem like enough time to settle into a role, but Chuckran is still learning the nuances of the community. “It’s obvious that Bellingham leans on industrial and commercial development,’’ she observed. “Prime challenges are staying within the parameters of an annual budget and knowing all the state regulations on budgeting and spending. A CFO must know the generally accepted accounting principles. I just wish there was more time in each day to accomplish what I’d like to achieve.’’
Chuckran likes the town’s stores and restaurants and she’s a fan of the library and the senior center. “They both offer outstanding programs,’’ she said.
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, Heidi Chuckran is comfortable in her role as Bellingham’s CFO because she’s always involved in a numbers game.
That’s what makes her tick.
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