City Looking For New Finance Director, Thomas Actually Leaving This Time Around
The City of West U. is advertising for a new finance director in the hopes that current Finance Director Walter Thomas can take the new hire under his wing for the year before Thomas’s June 2009 retirement.
Thomas announced his retirement a couple of years ago, but ended up staying after the city had trouble finding a suitable replacement.
“This time I really mean it,” said Thomas.
City Manger Michael Ross says he has received a couple of applications so far. Both Ross and Thomas say it would be beneficial to the city to hire immediately, which would give the incoming finance director a chance to go through the budget cycle and November bond election with Thomas assisting.
Regardless of the timing of the new hire, Thomas will stay until next year.
“I have been doing what I have been doing for quite a while, and it might be a good thing to have another finance director come work with me a while before I get gone,” said Thomas, who will hit his 13-year anniversary with the city on Thursday.
Thomas says the city was in good shape when he took over the finance department in 1995 – almost in too good of shape.
“They had really big fund balances which represented money that had been taxed away from people and wasn’t being spent on capital,” said Thomas. “Basically, infrastructure hasn’t been maintained really well, and they had a big backlog of capital projects building up…almost instantly when I came we began the process of the infrastructure replacement program. All together we sold about $70 million in bonds, and had another $30 million or $40 million in grants. We raised a lot of money and spent a lot of money in West U.”
Walter says during his first decade with the city, debt rose from about $5 million to around $60 million, which was used to replace the infrastructure in the entire city. That debt it scheduled to be retired within the next 10 years.
“You can say the city was in good financial shape (in 1995), but if you have a certificate of deposit worth $1 million, but your house is falling down around your head…,” said Thomas.
Thomas says he thinks residents responded well to the infrastructure replacement program, which he says was unique.
“Replacing all the infrastructure in a community of this size – I don’t know if there is another city that has done it,” said Thomas. “I would imagine no one else has done it quite the way we did it. It was done by neighborhood – we did the streets, water, drainage from the very beginning to end.”
Thomas says the city now is in strong financial shape, with a good fund balance, a good tax base and providing better service to residents.
“On the whole, as far as what I do, the finances are in good shape – no worries,” said Thomas.
Ross says it will be hard to replace Thomas.
“Walter is priceless,” said Ross. “I have never met another finance director like him. He is able to take the complex and break it down to layperson terms so they can be easily understood…he’s got that talent that few accountants have in his ability to communicate on top of having the ability to crunch numbers. Walter is a well-rounded professional.”
Thomas, who lives in Crosby, says he will likely visit West U. after retirement, especially to see his coworkers in the finance department, some of whom have been there as long as he has.
“The finance department is pretty stable,” said Thomas. “It’s kind of like I come to work with a bunch of sisters every day. I will definitely miss them. I enjoy working with the folks here. It’s actually a great job – I enjoy being here ever day. I am just getting old and deaf.”