By Josh LaBella
He was prepared for the numbers. He was prepared for the meetings. But no one could be prepared for what came his way less than a month ago.
City Finance Director Frank Cieplinski said his background in corporate finance has helped him transition into his new role. It probably didn’t prepare him for the “way” he got the role.
Cieplinski started in the position on the Monday after the previous Finance Director Ron Cicatelli had abruptly resigned the Friday before. Within hours he had a new office, a new job and a new role, but it wasn’t a difficult transition.
He had previously worked in accounting and then finance at PerkinElmer, a diagnostic technology corporation, and said the experience has made it easy to step into the budget process of West Haven. That budget process, which began barely days after he settled in will continue until Mayor Nancy N. Rossi presents her proposed budget next month.
Sticking to the schedule, Cieplinski said he is well into the first phase of the budgetary process.
“We’ve already had meetings with a couple of the department heads,” said Cieplinski, “to go through their numbers and help them understand what’s going on and to try to build a plan that, I think, is going to be more in-depth than they’ve had in the past.”
According to Cieplinski, they are trying to find places to trim costs where needed from a budget perspective. He said he and his team have been doing a lot of “date diving,” so they can measure prior financial activity and be able to forecast where the city is going. He said his current challenge is trying to get a grasp on how the municipality is different from corporate America.
“The accounting director has been really great walking me through these things,” said Cieplinski. “We’ve met with a couple of the consultants that we have to help with various areas – bonds and that type of stuff. So they’ve been very useful in getting my head around what’s going on.”
Cieplinski said from what he has been able to see so far costs are under control and revenue is coming in. He said he thinks it is a good story.
“[That’s] From what I’ve seen and heard, anecdotally of course, because I’ve only been here three weeks, I don’t know what’s gone on in the past,” said Cieplinski. “But I believe that the cost-cutting measures that have been implemented are starting to take hold.”
Cieplinski said he and an official from the state are mapping the process. He said they are doing that to figure out where the efficiencies can come and to the make the day-to-day lives of city workers easier so they do not have to be constantly catching up.
“As I used to say in my old [career], if we can find a way to get them off the hamster wheel for an hour a day,” said Cieplinski, “where they can actually focus on improving and doing other value added analysis and stuff – I think that’s going to be huge.”
The finance director said he is looking to change the city’s process of financial and budgetary reporting so he look at where they were at any point of time and measure against where they thought they were going to be. He said this is different than the current method, where they look at where they are compared to the full year budget.
“By grabbing the data,” said Cieplinski, “we should be able to get ahead of any potential issues. That’s the goal. You want to be proactive and not reactive.”
Cieplinski said his goal is to surgically reduce costs with a minimum amount of pain. He said he has been told if the MARB, the Municipal Accountability Review Board, moves the city to Tier IV it will not be a scalpel, but a sledgehammer taken to the budget. He said the first six months look very promising and he looks forward to seeing where they are at the end of the year.