Advisory Committee: Town budget would call for 2.9% tax increase but no override

by susan on March 17, 2010

The Advisory Committee is one of two town bodies that recommend a budget for town meeting voters to consider (the other is the Board of Selectmen).

Yesterday Advisory Committee member Al Hamilton posted a comment on this blog about the state of the budget from his committee’s perspective. Since some of you may have missed it in the comments, I’m reprinting it here.

The Advisory Committee has met for the last 2 weeks and the broad outlines of a budget are now solidifying.

The bottom line at this point is that the Advisory budget would reflect a 2.9% tax increase for next year.

Almost all municipal departments are experiencing budget reductions on the order of 1-4%. Advisory cut the money under it’s control (Reserve Fund) by 25%

The K-8 Schools including benefits will increase 2.5%. However, this reflects a loss of about $460,000 in state funding for special ed which we are obliged to pick up. The actual operating budget net of the Commonwealth stiffing us is down about $200,000 or -1.2%. There will be layoffs in the K-8 schools. The k-8 school population is down about 100 students from its 2004 peak.

Algonquin is up about 5%. The total Algonquin budget, as proposed, is almost flat owing to the use of the regional equivalent of the stabilization fund. The increase comes from a dramatic increase in the % of students from Southborough. In the past about 70%-75% of Southborough 8th graders moved to 9th grade in Algonquin, this year, perhaps because of the economy, that number is over 90%. That swings the percentage of students toward us and obliges us to pick up a greater percentage of the costs. Advisory has voted a sum that is $50,000 less than requested by the Regional School Committee.

Warrant articles have been sharply curtailed

  • K-8 Technology has been reduced by about $40,000
  • DPW Equipment has been reduced by about $98,000 – The suggestion was to hire a private contractor for the sanding and salting instead of spending this sum on a truck with a sander.
  • Police Crusiers have been eliminated and it was suggested that we plan on getting 125k miles out of our existing fleet instead of less than 100k
  • Senior Center Renovations have been reduced to about $119k (there is no budget impact on this item)
  • The capital maintenance fund will be replenished at a slightly lower rate.
  • The Overlay Reserve has been reduced by $200,000 – We are investigating if we have the authority to actually recommend this change.

This budget also takes about $490,000 out of stabilization leaving about $400,000 in the stabilization which the Advisory Committee feels is the minimum amount that should be left in that fund.

This budget does not deal with some of the larger issues that drive costs in town including the inefficient occupancy pattern, inefficient staffing, benefits costs, and services that perhaps we should no longer offer at public expense.

At this point, while the current increase is 2.9% with some upside risk, the maximum allowed before we hit the Prop 2.5 cap is about 4.7%. There will be organized support for the restoration of some of the cuts that have been suggested and if history is followed some of this money will be restored on the floor of town meeting unless there is an organized constituency that says no!

There are still several opportunities for cuts we are investigating. I believe that the Advisory will be making an attempt to offer a path to a 0% budget if residents are interested but it may well be that we will have to offer our own alternative. The spreadsheets are available to do this.

One of the recommendations the Advisory Committee makes is to pull $490K from the town’s stabilization fund. That’s our so-called “rainy day fund.” It’s a move the Board of Selectmen strongly opposes. I’ll have more on this issue in an upcoming post.

If you want to see the budget documents the Advisory Committee is working with, you’ll find them on their website (southboroughadvisory.nexo.com/resources).

1 Al Hamilton March 17, 2010 at 9:54 AM

I would like to clear up a common misconception. While the Board of Selectmen have traditionally developed a budget proposal for the annual town meeting, this practice is informal and entirely optional.. There is no provision in the Town By Laws that requires the Board of Selectmen to propose an overall budget other than the budgets for the departments under their control (Fire, DPW, Police, etc but not Library, Schools, Clerk, Planning, Assessors, or Health).

The only body that is required by Town By Law to propose a budget to the Annual Town Meeting is the Advisory Committee. Town Meeting is our legislature and Advisory is a sub committee of our Legislature appointed by our legislative leader, the Moderator. The overall budget is a legislative responsibility not an executive responsibility. Further, there is no executive in town with responsibility that spans all of the various fiefdoms in town.

I don’t mean to criticize the Seletmen’s preparation of a budget any board or citizen is free to do so only to clarify that this budget has no special standing.

2 susan March 17, 2010 at 10:02 AM

Al, thanks for clarifying that.

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