One on One with…George ‘Bud’ Finch

Harrison Town Manager George 'Bud' Finch

Harrison Town Manager George 'Bud' Finch

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

HARRISON — As the calendar turns from May to June, a town manager either feels a little uneasy or slightly comfortable.

With budget figures in place, some wonder how taxpayers will respond at town meeting, especially if requests push the overall numbers toward a tax increase.

George “Bud” Finch feels somewhat relaxed. His budget picture for the Town of Harrison came into focus weeks ago, especially once figures trickled in from SAD 17 and Cumberland County. With the town on solid financial footing and a well-designed plan to address capital improvements and purchases over the next five to 10 years, Finch is confident in the proposed budget (which represents a 15 to 25 cent reduction in the mill rate) he will present voters on June 15.

The News went One on One with Town Manager Bud Finch this week.

Q. Budget season is upon us. What is the most difficult task in shaping a budget with rising costs, decreasing revenues, and yet the call for services by taxpayers while also not wanting to see their taxes go up?

GF. The most difficult aspect of being a town manager and the difficult task in shaping a budget go hand-in-hand. The wants and needs of people continue to grow as do the expenses incurred while revenues other than property tax continue to shrink or at best remain flat, leaving tax increases as the one source of additional income.

For Harrison, this is impacted significantly by the state’s education inherently unfair funding formula and to some extent by county taxation, the funding requirements over which we have little if any control.

The budget process we use in Harrison is what I refer to as fluid planning versus the snap shot of a fiscal year, which is common in most small communities. By constantly monitoring current trends on a monthly basis, analyzing the past five years and projecting the next five years, we are able to implement longer-term strategies to create less volatile peaks and valleys. This enables our property owners to look further into the future versus one year in terms of tax impact. This process allows us to bring productivity improvements and cost avoidance into the municipal operations while improving municipals services and to provide comprehensive capital needs and roads plans without significant increases in taxation.

Q. What are the biggest problems facing small towns today?

GF. Changing demographics is a problem for all communities for it is what creates more than any other factor the need for continuous change and improvements in how a town operates. For the most part, each community faces different “biggest problems” as can be seen in towns with the loss of paper mills or other major employment and tax bases. In terms of what most small communities face as “biggest problems,” I would say the rising cost of education followed by the failure to meet infrastructural capital equipment and roads needs are the top of the list of things we can deal directly with.

Q. You recently decided to stay on as manager. First off, what was the lure to come to Harrison in the first place, and why did you decide to stay on? And, how long do you plan to stay?

GF. My life journey to Harrison was more accidental in some ways than planned. I took retirement in 2010 with plans to spend my latter years of life in an area with more sunshine and beach time. In doing so, I also decided I did not want to fully retire and was choosing a path of becoming an interim town manager as there are always openings where one can serve for three months or so. The month after I moved to Florida, the opportunity to come to Harrison came up. It started at what I thought was going to be interim position or at least short term, and turned into a bit longer as can be seen. A year ago, I set my sights on retiring, once again, by December of this year. When I announced in January, while presenting the draft budget to the Board of Selectmen, I would be done at year’s end, it was at that time my plan. Over the next few weeks as the topic was tossed around, many people shared their desire for me to stay on if I would for at least another year. Yes, I am sure there are folks who wished I was gone long before this but that goes with the territory. My plan on how long I will be staying is based more on my health and how things go than anything else. I turned 67 in April and there is a reality to one’s health and life so I must be realistic that there are things I have no control over. In addition, I feel there is strong support from the people and Board of Selectmen so will stay as long as they feel I am an agent of positive change.

Q. How did you become interested in becoming a town manager?

GF. This can be a bit of a difficult question when I look back over my career which for the most part had been in the private sector, (27 years), rising up through the ranks into project engineer in the aerospace industry. When I was 45, I had what my three sons called a major mid-life crisis, loved my work but hated my job. Prior to me leaving the private sector, I had become a selectman and worked on economic development in Wells and the York County area. A friend of mine who worked in personnel in the private sector suggested, maybe teased, that I should become a town manager. It was a bit of a laugh at the time, but later as my desire for a career change set in it became more of an interest and here I am today.

Q. How many years have you been a manager, and over those years, what would be the three major lessons you have learned?

GF. I have been in municipal management now for 21 years, (Eastport for 15 years and Harrison for six) in addition to my six years as a selectman in Wells. The first major lesson I learned, maybe should say had to learn, was to not take the complaints, often insults, personal. Second was to keep reminding myself, no matter how well I do there are people who are going to complain anyway. Third would be to remember you are doing what you do for the people of the town and your best reward is to enjoy what you are doing while making a positive difference for the community.

Q. How would you describe your managing style? What shaped it?

GF. Most of my managing style came from the guidance of my mother who was very influential in my learning to deal with life. Otherwise throughout my career I have had the good, (sometimes not so good), opportunity to work under and with a wide variety of management styles as well as take a number of courses, classes and tests. In my latter private sector years, I had the opportunity to work under a manager, who had what he referred to as an MBWA, (Management By Walking Around). With this style of management, sometimes referred to as pulse beat management, one has to be involved in all facets of what is happening while not being a micro-manager. One also has to be flexible in dealing with each situation fairly and equally while often using a page out of all management styles. His mentoring helped me to understand the reality of taking a job where the only sign on your desk is “the buck stops here.” He also believed the hierarchy pyramid for management was inversed in that instead of going from the bottom to the top that the pyramid was upside down and the weight of management fell not on the lower levels but on the top level. He used to tell me my job was simple, a manger has only two things to do, one to supply the tools for people do to their jobs and the second was to run interference against the many restraints people had to do their job. Sounds simple enough, but that is what management and leadership is all about, accomplishing the task at hand.

Q. What is the most difficult aspect of being a town manager?

GF. Meeting the unlimited wants and needs of the people, (be they residents, taxpayers or employees), with the limited means available. This is made more difficult by the changing times, the increased costs and the past failures to adapt to those changes, particularly the infrastructure needs such as capital equipment and roads.

Q. What are the biggest challenges managers face?

GF. The biggest challenge is addressing the inevitable changes taking place within a community. Not only are the changes taking place, they are also at a more rapid pace than any time in history. Small town government was historically local where today we face the reality of passed down bureaucracy from federal and state levels where there has been little to no consideration as to the impact on smaller communities. How to deal with this has made every facet of a manager’s job more difficult.

Q. How has the job changed over the years?

GF. The job of town manager has changed significantly over the last 25 years. For small communities, it was quite often not much more than clerical functions in terms of the person setting in the position of manager. Little change prior to that time period made the job more déjà vu as less was expected. Today, the changes are far more rapid and challenging, often burning out managers as small communities try to meet the demands of people and the bureaucratic web of government.

Q. What do you like most about living and managing a small town?

GF. Having been born and raised in a small community I love the ability to be in touch with the people on a more face-to-face basis. The family and friendship atmosphere brings with it the sharing of love for the health and vitality of the community. Harrison has been a great place for me to bring an end to my career as people have made it a wonderful stop along my way through the journey of life.

Q. What do you like the least?

GF. The difficulty in keeping people involved in their community and organizations as the demographics change from a younger to an older population and from a local to a more transient population. This impacts most all aspects of a community be it government or nongovernment identity and is the heart and soul of a community.

Q. You put out a weekly “Update.” That is something you don’t see manager often do, reach out to taxpayers and residents. Why did you decide to do it, and what has been the response?

GF. The update began when I first became a municipal manager. It started out as part of a weekly note to the City Council with what was happening, be it direct municipal business or things they may want or need to be aware of as members of the community. The change to a more distributed update came following the first election during my tenure when a retiring member of the board asked if he could still get the update. I told him he certainly could as there was nothing contained in it that was not of the public’s right to know and I was sending it to the newspapers anyway. Shortly after we advertised it was available to all, it became the weekly update for many and grew in distribution significantly. When I came to Harrison, I continued to do updates and it has continued to grow here also in terms of mailing and now can even be found on the Harrison Web page. Along with the weekly update, there are also special updates, (fires, accidents, storm damage, etc), from time to time. The response here and in my previous position has been as amazing to me as it has been to many who receive it. Most interesting to me is the number of snowbirds as we call them and people who are summer residents along the lakes who look forward to it. To me, it allows the Town of Harrison to reach a higher level of transparency

Q. When you decide to retire, what three things will you be most proud of?

GF. Retirement has been a strange goal for me as I thought I had retired prior to taking the Harrison manager’s job and here I am in my sixth year. So retirement is somewhat of a fleeting experience for me.

I have been involved in so many great happenings in my career it is hard to look back and say which three I am most proud of. All were done with the best interest of the community and often were made successful by the great work of many who supported me. I was raised to do what is right and when one chooses to do what is right then it is not necessary to look for recognition beyond facing yourself in the mirror and knowing you did your best. The answer in terms of Harrison will only come after I am gone when judgment on my past will take place. For me, I would be most proud knowing the efforts I put in made Harrison’s future more bright.

Q. And on the flip side, any regrets?

GF. I have loved and cherished my career in municipal service, leaving my only regret to be one of not being able to accomplish more.

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