Lathrop’s last official day of work for the town will be Feb. 7.
Lathrop informed Buck and Superintendent of Schools Roy Seitsinger Jr. that he was looking for a new position a few weeks ago, Buck said, adding that the news came as a surprise to her. Lathrop was the first finance director to oversee the financial operations of both the town and the School Department after the fiscal operations of two departments were consolidated in 2011. Town officials have called the consolidation a pioneering, precedent-setting endeavor in Rhode Island.
Word of Lathrop’s departure comes about three weeks before Buck — who was appointed in October — must submit the proposed municipal budget to the Board of Finance. The Town Charter requires the budget to be submitted on the third Monday of February, or Feb. 17 this year. The School Committee ratified Seitsinger’s budget proposal for 2014-15 last week.
Buck said she was confident the town budget would come together properly and said Lathrop had offered to provide assistance after he leaves for Portsmouth.
An interim finance director, probably a member of the staff of the town’s private auditing firm, is likely to be appointed, Buck said. The town will then advertise the vacancy and look for a full-time replacement, Buck said.
Lathrop confirmed Tuesday that he has taken a position as finance director in Portsmouth, where he said his job will also include human resources responsibilities.
“It’s basically the same,” Lathrop said of his new position.
He declined to say why he had decided to seek a new position, offering only that it was time to move on.
“I appreciated working in Westerly; it was a great opportunity but an opportunity came up,” Lathrop said.
Lathrop’s three-year contract with Westerly is set to expire in August.
Town Council President Diana Serra credited Lathrop with establishing the “building blocks” to make the municipal-school consolidation work. She also praised his work to capture overdue tax revenue through a tax sale conducted in November and other measures.
Serra said Lathrop told her that the position in Portsmouth appealed to him because it offered more opportunity to serve as an administrator.
Councilor Christopher Duhamel also praised Lathrop, but said the timing of his departure will present a challenge.
The council, Duhamel said, will have to look elsewhere for input as it deliberates on the municipal budget and considers asking voters to approve borrowing to pay for 300 acres of land in Bradford, and for grant programs that require financial matches from the town, dredging Winnapaug Pond, repaving town roads, and the town’s contribution to rebuilding the Boombridge Road bridge.
“It comes at an inopportune time for us — it’s budget season and we have a new manager and are studying these bond issues,” Duhamel said.
An additional complication, Duhamel said, is the departure of Richard Smith, in July, as chairman of the finance board.
“We’re missing Dick Smith, but I have the greatest confidence in Ken Swain,” the new finance board chairman, Duhamel said.
Duhamel said the transition to a consolidated municipal and school finance department brought “growing pains” and “challenges,” but he added that he had been satisfied with Lathrop’s periodic updates to the council.
Councilor Patricia Douglas referred, on Monday, to Lathrop as “a genius” who she said had succeeded in finding money that had sat untapped in reserve accounts in the municipal budget.
Lathrop’s current annual salary in Westerly is $108,191. He previously served as director of finance in New London from January 2009 to August 2011, and as finance director in Hopkinton from September 2007 to December 2008.