WESTPORT — First Selectman Jim Marpe’s hopes to hire a new town operations director are still possible.

On Wednesday, the Board of Finance voted 5-2 to keep the position in the town budget, which currently totals to $78.3 million.

Asked by the finance board last week to reduce his initial $79.3 million budget by about $1.02 million, First Selectman Jim Marpe presented a budget March 15 that surpassed the goal by $30,000. Part of that budget was still slated to fill the town operations director position, a $100,000-a-year job that has been left vacant since Dewey Loselle abruptly resigned last November.

After Marpe was elected first selectman, he drew criticism for hiring Loselle as operations director because neither of Marpe’s two predecessors staffed that position.

The decision to fill the job comes at a time when the town is facing an $8 million shortfall and reducing headcount has been a focus of the finance board. As part of the revised budget, there will be some staffing reductions, including the elimination of a payroll coordinator in human resources that pays $55,000 and an assessment technician in the town assessor’s office who makes $66,000 and will retire.

Finance board members have gone back and forth on the operations director position.

“I’ve argued both sides of this. I thought I was pretty articulate both times,” said Chairman Brian Stern, who ultimately voted to keep the position.

Board members John Hartwell and Lee Caney voted to eliminate the position, arguing the post can be filled by the work of consultants.

“I think headcount is really important for this and can be permanent and with benefits it gets expensive. A lot of these projects seem to be, could be handled by department heads, volunteers. Also, we need to hire outside consultants we don’t have to pay benefits to — Pay them on a one-time basis to help with certain projects,” Caney said. “I’m not saying it’s not the right thing to do in certain circumstances, but given our budget restraints this year, I have to agree with you, John, in eliminating that position.”

Board member James Westphal said because of the budgetary constraints, the operations director job should be more of a priority. “I think it’s going to be somebody who has to referee a lot of internal fights and do it on kind of a daily basis to make sure that we do the things that are high priority: consolidation of the Board of Ed. and the town functions,” he said. “I don’t think a consultant can do that because I think consultants are going to come in and provide a lot of data and they’re not going to be able to be involved in implementation.”

Stern, who also voted keep the position in the budget, agreed that consultants were not the way to go. The chairman said he has not been happy with the performance of consultants and gave them a “B minus” or “C plus” grade.

Board member Sheri Gordon said she feels confident there is now a plan in place for what exactly the operations director is responsible for, like combining departments’ resources and finding efficiencies. “The operations director really is the right role to be able to coordinate all of those things, which ultimately provides the savings that we need,” she said.

The police department reduced its budget by $50,000 through a reduction in overtime. The fire department cut its budget by $60,000 by postponing fire hose upgrades and overtime. Public Works lowered its budget by $60,000 by delaying facilities maintenance.

The board was to examine the school budget on Thursday.

@chrismmarquette; cmarquette@bcnnew.com