Town meeting day 1: School, library budgets approved; police budget cut

by susan on April 13, 2010

Town Meeting last night voted to approve the K-8 and regional school budgets at their full amounts, and defeated a motion that would have cut the library budget by 4%. On the flip side, voters decided to reduce the proposed police budget by an additional $50K.

Voters got through most of the operational budget items, but many articles — including capital requests for school technology — and questions around how to fund town budgets remain. Town meeting will continue tonight at 7:30 pm.

Strong support for the library
The library saw perhaps the most impassioned support from town meeting voters last night in response to a motion by the Board of Selectmen to cut their level-funded budget by $18K, a 4% decrease. Several residents were applauded after speaking in support of the library.

The reduction would have required the library to seek a special waiver from the state to maintain its certification, a scenario Advisory Committee member John Butler called “shameful.”

But former Advisory Committee member Al Hamilton said it’s a question of choices. “We’re cutting hours at the police station. We’re cutting hours at the fire station. We’re cutting hours at Town Hall,” he said. “Level funding the library is something we’d all like to do, but to do that we’d have to ask people who are struggling to pay higher taxes.”

When it came down to a vote, Town Meeting resoundingly defeated the motion to reduce the library budget, opting instead to keep its funding the same as last year.

School budgets pass at the eleventh hour … literally
Discussion of the school budgets didn’t come until nearly 11:00 pm, and by that time a number of voters had already left. But the requested K-8 budget passed with hardly any discussion — save one resident asking if Town Meeting could vote to increase the budget in the hopes of restoring the six teaching positions eliminated in the budget. (It can’t. The law says budgets cannot be significantly increased on the floor of town meeting.)

Overall there was more debate about the regional budget than the K-8 budget when the Selectmen made a motion to lower Southborough’s assessment by nearly $166K, an amount that reflects what the assessment would be if the regional agreement was used instead of the state formula adopted several years ago by the regional school committee.

The motion was largely symbolic. The issue of which assessment method to use — regional agreement or state formula — was taken up by Town Meeting last year, and voters decided to support the regional school committee’s use of the state formula even though it results in a higher assessment for Southborough.

Selectman Bill Boland said that while the board remains “adamant” that the regional agreement should be used to determine the assessment, he withdrew his motion to lower the regional budget, “in fairness of trying to get the budget approved for the students of Algonquin.”

Voters overwhelmingly approved the $17M budget. Southborough will be assessed about $5.7M of that amount.

Quinn Bill funding cut
Debate on the police department budget came down to whether or not to match state cuts in Quinn Bill funding. The Quinn Bill gives police officers bonuses for obtaining college degrees.

Historically, the state and town have split program costs 50-50, but this year the state reduced their funding for the program. Southborough police officers have a contract that says if the state cuts Quinn Bill funding, the town can also cut funding by a corresponding amount. It’s what happened this year, and the Advisory Committee argued it’s what voters should approve for next year. That would mean cutting the nearly $1.6M police department budget by about $50K.

Noting that teachers in the K-8 district had volunteered to take an $80K reduction in their contract to help out with the budget, Advisory Committee member John Butler said it was a question of fairness. ” I don’t want to ask for a concession from teachers for money we owe them and then pay police officers money we don’t owe them.”

The Board of Selectmen disagreed with Advisory’s motion to cut the budget saying the town is currently in labor negotiations with police officers for next year, and their special labor counsel recommended not cutting Quinn Bill funding. Boland said other towns in similar positions to Southborough are facing legal challenges over cuts to Quinn Bill funding.

Ultimately voters decided to cut the funding by a vote of 167 to 99.

1 That was a mistake ! April 13, 2010 at 9:29 AM

If you said “No Raises this year”, I would agree. The Quinn Bill was negotiated by the Police in lieu of higher raises in the past. And they are now being compared to a teacher who gets every summer off, never places themselves at risk, never works a holiday or weekend or midnight or Christmas.
From the vote it looks like theres a 2-1 ratio of citizens who don’t appreciate what a Police Officer really is; a Policeman, a doctor, a Psychologist, a Priest, a role model and a person who is willing to put their life on the line so that someone else may be spared. Oh by the way, the hats they wear sometimes require split second decisions while others have the luxury of time to tear their work apart.
And now what is Southboro left with ? A non civil service police force, academy trained, looking at a pay cut and plenty of towns taking lateral transfers who do pay the full Quinn Bill. For a change, I applaud the BOS for their support of the full funding. The issue should be brought up again for reconsideration. The town is now in jeapordy of losing trained police officers to other communities that understand and appreciate their value.

2 Mimi22 April 13, 2010 at 10:20 AM

The argument you made above would have been very appropriate at last night’s meeting. All very good points. Too bad no one made those points before the vote. Things may have gone differently.

3 Al Hamilton April 13, 2010 at 9:44 AM

Town Meeting Round 2:

There will be a number of very important topics debated and decided. If you think you won your points last night don’t be so sure.

“It ain’t over till its over” Any budget or warrant article can be reconsidered and re-voted. Only the formal close of the meeting seals the votes. If you are a library or school advocate you need to attend to make sure your vote sticks
.
There are some big issues left that affect your pocket book. Not all the spending discussions have taken place and there is at least $135,000 of disagreement left between the Advisory and Selectmen’s view of spending that has not been resolved. (K-8 Technology, Roads)

The biggest issue is, “How are we going to pay for all of this”. The Advisory Committee will be proposing that we use Stabilization Money (taxes you already paid) to “balance the budget” and limit tax increases to about 3.5%. The Selectmen will be opposing the use of Stabilization and It looks like they will be proposing a 5.4% tax increase that will have to include a Prop 2.5 override unless there is wholesale rejection of the Warrant budget articles.

One thing that is important to understand is that NONE OF THE BUDGETS ARE REALLY BALANCED! All of the budgets require that we spend down asset accounts. A balanced budget would maintain asset accounts at their present level. The arcane rules of public sector accounting permit us to maintain this fiction but that is what it is a fiction.

The Algonquin budget is not balanced. It spends down about $700,000 from an asset account called Excess and Deficiency which is the rough equivalent of the towns stabilization fund. Spending at Algonquin will increase on the order of 4% by supplementing your assessment with these funds. I am not opposed to this but we need to understand that this budget is not balanced.

The Advisory budget is not balanced. It spends down $500k from the Stabilization Fund Asset and to a lesser extent spends down the K-8 Technology Asset and Road Asset (more on this below) to achieve lower rate of tax increase of about 3.5%.

The Selectmens budget is not balanced. In addition to higher taxes, it spends down 2 important asset accounts.

K-8 Technology – We have between $500,000 and $1,000,000 worth of computers, networks, printers, routers and other technology assets in our schools. This equipment has a 5-6 year life. The most reasonable estimate I have seen is that we need to spend about $125,000 per year to maintain this asset. The Selectmen are recommending a $0 for this line item clearly intending to spend down this asset account this year leaving them, in my opinion $125k out of balance. The School Committee and Advisory plan on spending $89k which will add to the out of balance amount by another $35k

Roads – Roads are one of the most ancient functions of Towns. Every reasonable estimate that I have seen suggests that we need to provide between $250,000 and $300,000 of our tax dollars every year, in addition to money provided by the State (Chapter 90 road money) to maintain our road system in its current condition. The Selectmen are recommending $150,000 and Advisory $200,000. The difference adds to the out imbalance a sum that is between $50,000 and $150,000.

I for one would prefer to fund the imbalance with Stabilization assets (unproductive assets) rather than with K-8 technology and Roads which are productive assets.

Finally there will be a number of non money warrant articles. The most contentious might be the so called “Road Closing Article” which when represented to the Advisory committee was a thinly disguised attempt to reinstate police details, in spite of the fact that we are the only state in the nation that still permits this practice.

4 Kelly Roney April 13, 2010 at 11:22 AM

A few points…

Reconsideration is only in order on an article once and can only be moved by someone on the previously prevailing side, but your broader point that what we passed and defeated last night is still incomplete is of course correct.

Spending from stabilization would have to be by your definition spending previous surpluses. From what I read last night, it seemed to me that Advisory wanted to spend slightly more than half of the stabilization fund (as well as all the free cash). Given the economic picture, this seems reasonable to me. If this isn’t a rainy day, what is?

I would expect Advisory to advocate spending all the balance next year to mitigate what I hope will be the end of this recession. By FY2013, recovery should allow us to start socking away again for the next downturn.

I completely agree that deferred maintenance is a form of deficit spending. We’ve been doing it for years in good times and in bad. Another year of cold patches in potholes? I can deal with that.

5 Pat Quill April 16, 2010 at 9:35 AM

Kelly,

You make absolutely no sense at all. On a different thread (Town Meeting Day 2,
voters approve 43M budget, dip into rainy day fund, April 14th)
you state that “John Butler shows conclusively that bond ratings value income and not
cash reserves” and then reference his position paper. Yet above you state “By FY2013,
recovery should allow us to start socking away again for the next downturn”. Which is
it?

You also state that you are ok with spending the rest of the stabilization fund and
“hope that FY2013 will be good economic times again” as well as above where you
state “I would expect Advisory to advocate spending all the balance next year to
mitigate what I hope will be the end of this recession”. I’d like to know what crystal
ball your looking into so that you, like others, are willing to roll the dice with our
budget and town’s financial health.

6 Kelly Roney April 18, 2010 at 2:14 AM

Pat, let me explain. I agree with Advisory that bond rating is not connected to reserves. So I don’t see a danger in spending the stabilization fund.

But I value having reserves to spend on a rainy day. Advisory is right that a stabilization fund is a leaky bucket – it doesn’t save the taxpayers money. But I value it for its ability to stabilize expenditures – in effect, for counter-cyclical spending. And this bucket is not very leaky.

Look at our recent past. We socked away tax revenues when they were easier to pay in the 1990s, when times were good. In the current recession, we’ve been able to tighten our spending without tightening it to the point of serious pain. I think that’s a good thing. We’re taking easy dollars and spending them during hard times.

My crystal ball is no more reliable than anyone else’s. I’m just following the consensus of economists, and yes, they’ve been pretty wrong before. There could be a double-dip recession, and then we’re out of reserves. So? We’re no worse off when issuing bonds, and we’re one year further down the road to recovery, which will come eventually.

In short, this is a way to avoid pain as long as possible. Maybe that’s enough to avoid pain altogether; maybe it isn’t. But unless you favor cutting for the sake of cutting, it’s not senseless.

7 Kelly Roney April 18, 2010 at 2:17 AM

On rereading, I need to summarize a little better.

I agree with Advisory on spending the stabilization fund in a recession.

I disagree with Advisory on never building it past $400,000 in a future boom.

8 Misinformed April 13, 2010 at 12:53 PM

Al Hamilton wrote – “a thinly disguised attempt to reinstate police details, in spite of the fact that we are the only state in the nation that still permits this practice”. That sounded like a slam to the Police Department !

Al, you need to do some homework on the Police vs Flagman issue. As a someone who educated himself on the use of flaggers and who is pro Police details and very con Flagman, I think you should know that the use of flaggers on any roadway project in this state is nothing more than a shell game and our short sighted governor has his back against the wall trying to defend what is undefendable.
First, the prevailing wage for a flagman is between $50 and $65 per hour. Thats not the hourly rate; thats the hourly cost. The higher figure includes all the benefits that come along with the job. How much is the Southboro PD detail rate ? $38 an hour (I don’t know)
Second, flaggers are hired in pairs. Even if you take the higher end rate or $65 per hour, multiply that times two. My math works that figure to $130 per hour. How much does one Police detail cost per hour ? The police don’t require two for every job.
Third, why did our governor make a failed attempt to have flaggers reclassified as Crossing Guards. Because the Federal government wouldn’t let him and the numbers don’t lie. Flaggers cost more and have NO legal authority to stop traffic short of stepping into a crosswalk. It backfired on him and the public is starting to find out.
Fourth, some contractors bidding on a state project submit proposals that pay a flagger one penny an hour. They work on a bottom line number, so its easy to move money around and make things look good on paper that really are not.
Fifth, Police details put more cops on the street who are ready at the call for anything. You think Southboro is exempt from “homegrown terrorists” ? Sudbury thought so too.
Sixth, the town usually pays a percentage of the overall cost of the project; usually %10. The town ends up paying more money because flaggers cost more money.
As far as the money savings goes, under the Freedom of Information Act, all public records are available upon written request. Just pick two state run road projects and ask for the prevailing cost of the flaggers……
You will be shocked. Just like the governor is now that he knows whats really happening.

9 Kelly Roney April 13, 2010 at 6:17 PM

First, the prevailing wage for a flagman is between $50 and $65 per hour.

$100,000 to $130,000 per year? Where do I sign up? Even if that includes benefits…

I don’t believe these numbers.

10 Can't argue April 13, 2010 at 7:13 PM

You don’t have to believe. See for yourself. Ask for payroll records. Then you will see that the PREVAILING WAGE is between $50 and $65 per hour. You need to read the post again. A flagman get paid roughly $36.00 per hour. He/she is billed out at between 50- and 65 (their employers have to pay , workmans comp, insurance and other benefits too – but you missed that) There is profit and overhead for the Flagman company. They don’t do it for free.

11 Kelly Roney April 14, 2010 at 12:59 AM

So cite the link. It doesn’t exist.

There are legitimate arguments to be made about this in favor of details. $65/hour for flaggers isn’t one of them.

12 Misinformed April 14, 2010 at 8:40 AM

Kelly
The Commonwealth doesn’t have a link to something they are afraid to admit went badly. Call me a liar if you wish and call Chief Moran a liar too. She said almost exactly what I said at TM. I have one question for you and if you can explain it away in your favor…..I’ll go away.
Why did the Governor try to have Flaggers reclassified as Crossing Guards ? I hope to hear a logical, factual response either way.

13 say what? April 14, 2010 at 1:35 PM

Funny how the argument above calculates $50-$65 per hour which includes
benefits (health/dental, vacation, sick time, etc.) yet IGNORES the same
(typically GENEROUS) benefits that go along with city/state/federal jobs.
The $38 per hour MAY be the salary broken down to an hourly rate for a
Southborough police officer. NO WAY does a person doing highway flagging
duty receive a $65 per hour wage.

What are you smoking? Remember, Southborough adds a $300 fine for
possession of that controlled substance!

14 The Natural Truth April 13, 2010 at 2:45 PM

The mess we are in is only going to get worse. We need more tax revenue, and I dont mean from higher taxes. Allowing the development of Route 9 from the Mobil gas station to 495 will bring in millions of additional revenue. Problem is, most contractors give up becuase the Board is Anti-Development, so the land sits there. Look at what the town put Walgreens through!! Its time to wipe the slate clean and get rid of this board.

15 KenG April 13, 2010 at 3:51 PM

To which board are you referring?

16 carrie alpert April 13, 2010 at 4:36 PM

you are correct that nothing is balanced and the fact that we the people continue to allow 6 teachers to be removed as if it is part of the “all departments have to accomodate the economy and the suffering times” is just nonsensical. If you are not outraged then you are not paying attention.
Collect the back taxes and if a family cannot pay in full then here is a fresh new approach let them pay what they can, merge the senior center with the arts center and DON’T SPEND MY MONEY DOING A STUDY ON IT! sell some buildings–change an existing law so that we can charge for busing or even better rent out space on the actual buses for advertising as many towns across the nation have done in order to generate positive cash flow. Think. Do. Act. The tunnel vision to save a few dollars here and there to placate is nerve fraying and those who see through the veil will indeed take their families elsewhere where forward thinking is embraced and problem solving is actually done and the problem solving does not involve studies that cost the townspeople thousands upon thousands of dollars. The fact that tonite we are going to have to hear a debate about a proposed study on Parkerville that will cost over $30 grand to delve into the flooding issue is absurb. I will tell you the end result. We have a flooding problem and it needs to be fixed; if we want to fix it we will need to hire someone. There. Now we can take that $30 grand and pay a portion of a teacher salary.
Yes, i am angry.

17 Unreal April 13, 2010 at 5:19 PM

What is going on with Mr. Butler? He recommends cutting the police budget and then advocates putting roughly the same amount into the library budget? Where is his priorities? This is bad, real bad! A library for police, my goodness…I can get any book I want on line, but I sure in the hell can’t get a cop unless I dial 911. The BOS and Advisory need to fix this tonight.

18 KenG April 13, 2010 at 6:48 PM

I agree. The library is a “heart strings” issue. If they coudn’t make due with around 400K, something’s wrong. And I heard that, because of the economy, the state is readily granting the waiver to get around the certification issue. One person stands up and says “I’m appalled” or “it’s shamful” and everyone lets it work on them.

19 Resident April 13, 2010 at 6:22 PM

The town is in major, major trouble. We can keep blinders on and bandaid budgets again this year, but next year and the following year our property taxes will skyrocket. No one on the bos has any vision of what to do or how to do it. We need a change in leadership to someone who is willing to take the bull by the horns and propose real change in how revenues are generated. I do not know Mr. Rooney, but from all accounts, he is a refreshing change and someone who has been successful in business despite the economic downturn. The town needs executive management. It has none of it. I would urge everyone to read his candidate statement on this site. We can either fool ourselves with the back and forth at town meeting, or really aim to address the issues moving into the future. Year after year the same thing has been happening. If it isn’t time for a change now, then it is certainly time to move.

20 Kelly Roney April 14, 2010 at 2:11 AM

With the loss of Quinn bill funding from the state and the reduction in details, we should expect the police union contract currently in negotiation to be structured differently, and I expect to support increases to help reduce the gap in police compensation.

21 Kelly Roney April 14, 2010 at 1:14 PM

Misinformed, I didn’t call anyone a liar.

Flaggers don’t make $65 per hour. Even if you include overhead, which the Chief did, and figure a third of that as overhead (that is a 50% overhead rate), which is high, that still puts the hourly wage at $44. Sign me up! $88,000 a year for holding a flag? I could deal with the weather when it’s bad.

22 Kelly Roney April 14, 2010 at 2:22 PM

Here’s a pertinent story about flaggers vs. crossing guards, though it doesn’t answer Misinformed’s question. It does suggest that the premise of Misinformed’s question is wrong (just incorrect, not by any means a lie), that while crossing guard would be a cheaper job designation, flagger is still less expensive than a police detail.

Nonetheless, there’s an argument that the Chief could have made even using John Butler’s number of a 13% savings (although that was the lower limit of the savings, not the whole amount). That argument would be: An extra $5 an hour isn’t much to have the benefit another officer on the street, even if that officer has a fixed position.

Of course, reclassification to crossing guard would again alter the value proposition.

As I said last night, I just wanted to make a decision based on real facts, and the $65 wage claim didn’t pass that test.

23 Mimi22 April 14, 2010 at 2:45 PM

Actually Kelly, I did hear that argument last night. Chief Moran said that there was a benefit to having additional officers dispersed on duty around town.

24 Kelly Roney April 14, 2010 at 3:26 PM

But she didn’t put an accurate price tag on it. She claimed it was cheaper, based on the $65 wage.

25 southsider April 14, 2010 at 6:53 PM

There were a couple of Police Chief sponsored items on the warrant and they did not fare well.

Some of the blame must reside with our new Chief who certainly did not win any points from this voter with her complete lack of clear, concise, well-thought-out arguments. The warrant article that addressed her flagger vs police on road details was much too big and complex and probably needed to be re-submitted as a series of changes.
One example, Chief Moran promised background checks on flaggers but nothing in the article specified any such thing. Why not a separate article requiring all road crews to report to Police x days before doing any work for the purposes of such checks along with a provision that the vendor even subsidizes the background check if there’s a cost involved.. Nothing more, just that. We’d all agree and she’d be halfway home. Then another article changing other language or asking for more consideration, etc… I suspect you get my point: what was presented was unnecessarily complex, originally hiding behind the guise of bringing arcane language up to current realities and then poorly presented/defended.
And ditto for her attempts to gain back Quinn money for her staff. Talk of potential lawsuits was not the way to do it; facts on how many members of the staff have received Quinn money including information about what degrees they have received and from which colleges/universities as well as concise statistics in hand about how deep this warrant article would reduce individual police officer pay would have done much more to sway us.
Our Chief was clearly unprepared this time.
This is one voter who hopes these past two nights become a tough but effective learning experience for our new Chief.

26 carrie alpert April 16, 2010 at 11:38 AM

yes, i do believe that Chief Moran got a wee bit flustered and overwhelmed while trying to get her points across; however, this often does happen when one is so passionate about what one believes in and has so many people depending on them. Learning experience. I completely support the Chiefs bullet points as well as whatever the Police Department needs in terms of current training, personally i would rather have my own police officers doing the detail than bringing in other people especially with my kids riding their bikes etc. who better to keep an eye out for the town and the safety of those who live in it? (on a side bar who doesn’t love that Officer Landry’s office is at Neary? if your child is not at Neary yet you will understand when they are)– she just needs to structure her argument in more of an outline form as well as bring in more concrete statistical data that is backed up, especially when you bring up one liners about backround checks–you just cannot open up that topic of discussion and then move on to the next line item–it is Town Meeting not the Nancy Grace show.

27 Pro cop April 26, 2010 at 7:52 AM

Just some additional items about flaggers that are never mentioned…..
1. Who pays for them when the often seasonal jobs end for the winter? Do they get laid off and collect unemployment all winter? Who pays for that?
2. During collective bargaining agreements between the police unions and city/towns often a solution to a pay raise is a raise in the detail rate. The suggestion is that the officer can work extra hours and make the raises that the union is looking for, at no cost to the town/city. No detail no raise.
3. A Police officers at a construction site is an independent 3rd party. They represent the needs of the motoring public not the needs of the contractor; whom is often paid by the foot of pipe or job, not the number of cars that are affected by the work

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