AYER -- When Town Clerk John Canney requested a reserve-fund transfer for a $41.50 replacement key, the Finance Committee was struck by the key's high cost.

Committee member Brian Muldoon updated other committee members as to why the key cost so much. He said a blank key is $1.50, but the time it takes to make a specific key for a specific door in a secured building accounts for the $40.

Muldoon also mentioned Canney's other requests for reserve-fund transfers, or RFTs, that were denied in July, including $328.95 for a chair and stool, and a $1,200 filing cabinet.

"The only thing that comes to my mind is that it's too bad that Canney came to us two days before we had to close the books on this," Muldoon said.

On July 10, Canney came to the committee for a transfer to fund the items, but since the request was made too late, the committee was unable to review the expenses and documentation, and unable to approve the requests.

"The fiscal year closes on June 30 each year, and all invoices must be processed by July 15," Chairman Scott Houde said. "After July 15, the invoices cannot be charged to the prior fiscal year and require direct Town Meeting approval. Generally, the departments inform the FinCom of a potential RFT and the reasoning why the RFT is necessary."

Houde suggested setting up guidelines for departments related to RFTs before the end of the fiscal year.

"We should look at adding more information to the policies requiring paperwork for an RFT," Muldoon said.

During a review of the town's tax incremental financing, or TIFs, Houde said, "They vary by which town administrator facilitated the process. The goal, from a planning perspective, is to have a base agreement that spells out a starting point of negotiations for any future TIFs."

According to Houde, "TIFs are agreements between a municipality and the taxpayer (generally a business) which provide lower tax rates for a period of time. A TIF usually has conditions that the taxpayer must adhere to during the period of the TIF for the agreement to be valid. During the TIF period, the company is obligated to report annually to the town a series of financials and proof that they are holding their end of the agreement. If the company is found to be in violation of the agreement, Town Meeting can revoke the TIF."

During a discussion with Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand about a year and a half ago, Houde discovered two items of concern regarding TIF review.

"One is that we should have a standardized TIF form that we as a town would offer to businesses," he said. "It can be adjusted, but having a standardized form or approach is always a good thing because you start on the same base.

"The other concern is that each TIF is supposed to have benchmarks they are meant to hit, and there is supposed to be some sort of reporting that comes back to the town," Houde added. "That was actually why, when we did the policies, we looked at creating a TIF review committee so that there can be an actual body reviewing the TIFs because I don't think that any of the TIFs are sending back any information."

At a staff meeting hosted by Pontbriand, conversation revolved around the budget process and financial policies.

"The general feedback was very constructive," Houde said. "And really, the one thing, which I take the blame for, is that during the last budget cycle, there really wasn't a lot of feedback from us as a committee.

The Finance Committee is working to define a more concrete calendar of budgeted items for departments to refer to as the fiscal 2015 budget process nears.

At the staff meeting, Houde proposed an idea to look at a three- to five-year plan from each department head on his or her individual budget, and the idea was well-received.

"It's a hard committee to be on because there are a lot of problems, to be honest," Houde said.

"And a lot of things affect finance," Muldoon added.

"I think we need a mission statement," Houde said. "I think we need to set our goals, and I think we need to do it well."