Chief: We’re playing Russian roulette with the taxpayers

by susan on March 2, 2011

Post image for Chief: We’re playing Russian roulette with the taxpayers

Selectmen got a little bit closer to a balanced budget last night, but they’re still looking at a $1M gap. It’s a gap they say the schools may have to close, because cutting more from the municipal side would have too much of an impact on public safety.

Finance Director Brian Ballantine presented a budget last night that cut an additional $170K from municipal budgets, including $28K from the police budget, $36K from fire, and $30K from DPW.

Fire Chief John Mauro Jr. said the proposed cuts, coupled with cuts his department has absorbed over the past several years, would have a significant impact on his department.

Mauro told selectmen he usually has four firefighters on a shift. When they’re all out on a call, he can’t call in other firefighters to cover the station because there’s not enough money in his overtime budget. When another call comes in — which Mauro said happens 27% of the time — they have to rely on mutual aid.

“There are times when no one is in the station, and when that second call comes in, we have to wait for another town,” Mauro said. “We’re playing Russian roulette with the taxpayers.”

The current budget proposal cuts another $25K in overtime from the fire department.

Mauro said the cut in overtime also means he’s not able to conduct needed training. He said his staff hasn’t been trained on the jaws of life in six years, and they haven’t received hazardous material training in five years.

“We’re not up to date with how to rescue people because we can’t afford to do it,” he said.

Selectman John Rooney said the chief’s message was a “wake-up call” and called the proposed cuts to the fire and police budgets “short-sighted.”

“We’re talking about the safety and lives of residents,” he said. “I’m not sure people realize the significance of what has happened over the past couple of years in terms of reductions (to public safety).”

The budget presented last night was still $1M away from being balanced. If that gap is closed, taxpayers would still be faced with about a 4.5% tax increase next year. Selectmen have said they’re trying to get to a 2% tax increase. That would mean cutting $1.8M from the current budget.

Rooney said he would not support further cuts to public safety budgets.

“I’m not comfortable with it either,” Selectman Bill Boland said. “But the reality is if want to come in at 2%, we need to make cuts.”

Those cuts may have to come from the schools. Last month selectmen asked the schools to cut an additional $2M from their budget. The K-8 school committee will hold a public hearing on their budget on Wednesday, March 8 at 6:30 pm at Trottier.

“I am a strong proponent of the schools,” Rooney said. “But if a student is choking and the fire department can’t there for 30 minutes, we really need to look at balancing the services in the town.”

1 Earl E. Byrd March 2, 2011 at 10:10 AM

I think we need to provide the police and fire departments with what they need to do their jobs as safely as possible. Don’t let my notes and questions below cloud that.

Northborough in FY2011 allocated $3,256,806 to their fire and police departments; Southborough has allocated $3,319,773 for the same period. That may or may not be meaningful as needs for each community may be materially different.

What I don’t understand is how Southborough could allocate $1,591,773 to the police department and $1,728,000 to the fire department, whereas Northborough allocated significantly less to the fire department ($1,222,173) than its police department ($2,034,633).

What is our fire department doing that requires more than $500,000 more than Northborough’s?

And, what is our police department doing that it can operate on $400,000 less than Northborough’s?

2 Al Hamilton March 2, 2011 at 12:42 PM

Earl

Northborough has a population that is about 1.5X that of Southborough. One possible item that could account for some of the fire department imbalance is Mutual Aid. For the past decade we have consistently given more mutual aide than we have received. Mutual aide is very important and it would not be unusual to see a year or two of unfavorable balances but when this is a consistent decade long trend then it means that we are subsidizing other departments operations.

3 carrie alpert March 2, 2011 at 11:08 AM

i do not have the answers to those questions but we need to provide those departments with what they need to do their jobs, and the men and women need to be safe doing it and i don’t mean fancy police cruisers–if they have not been trained in the latest in greatest and don’t have the latest and greatest they need it and i don’t care if it means our taxes are raised.
go after Fay for the money.

4 John Mauro, Jr March 2, 2011 at 1:32 PM

Northborough uses revolving funds from ambulance revenue and other sources to fund the fire/EMS department. The numbers you see for Northborough’s published fire budget do not reflect these funds.

5 Earl E. Byrd March 2, 2011 at 3:11 PM

Is what you are referring to the “Transfer from Fire Emergency Medical Services Revolving Account” of $64,990 (Article 4 of the 2010 warrant for Northborough (http://www.town.northborough.ma.us/Pages/NorthboroughMA_Admin/warrant-final.pdf)?

Again, I strongly believe that if we’re going to ask our PD and FD to risk life and limb for us, we need to provide them with what they need to do that as safely as possible.

6 John Mauro, Jr March 2, 2011 at 4:22 PM

The difference between what you see for a Fire/EMS budget in Northborough and Southborough is accounting practices. Both communities generate revenue by way of billing for emergency ambulance services. Both communities use the revenue to offset costs to provide the service.

The difference is that Northborough uses a 53E1/2 Revolving Account where revenue is deposited and withdrawn from that account throughout the year to pay for expenditures relating to the service. This type of accounting is not reflected in the overall Fire/EMS budget as reported, however, it is accounted for separately. The amount you reference above is a portion of what is expended from that account throughout the year.

Southborough uses a Receipts Reserved account where all Ambulance revenue is deposited, however, expenditures from this account can only be done by Town Meeting vote. As such, all operating costs are included in the Fire/EMS budget. During Town Meeting, a “wrap-up” vote is taken to transfer funds in the Ambulance Receipts Reserved fund to offset the total town budget.

That is why Northborough’s Fire Budget appears considerably less that Southborough’s.

7 Earl E. Byrd March 4, 2011 at 10:54 AM

Thank you for your response.

I suspected something along the lines of what you shared.

Accounting is a strange and confusing animal on so many levels.

Someone commented that comparisons with Northborough are meaningless.

That was my view until a flawed comparison was made between what we spend on education (68% on schools and related debt and benefits) v. Northborough (originally believed to be 60%, but 71% when debt and benefits are included).

But for the flawed comparison, and my struggle believing we could be so different in what we spend, I would have never looked at the town report and warrant for Northborough.

Having read those documents and noted the serious disconnect (directionally) on what they spend on their FD and PD, I asked my question.

8 Priorities March 2, 2011 at 4:10 PM

I am in complate agreement that our Public Safety departments can no longer be asked to pay for our school system, thus putting our residents and themselves at risk. It has to stop. In my travels the past two weeks I have heard horror stories of understaffing when an emergency happens in our town. Employees (thankfully with both a conscience and concern for our community) come into the stations on their hours off to deal with emergencies, beg coverage from neighboring towns, help with dispatch. The rhetoric convincing people that we are a sleepy little town with no crime and no need for any investment in public safety IS JUST NOT TRUE!!! A tragedy will occur and then those spouting the rhetoric will be pointing their fingers elsewhere when the blame starts making its way around. What good will that do?

9 Part Timer March 3, 2011 at 12:35 AM

What is wrong with the Selectmen allowing cuts to Public Safety. Public Safety is a priority not a luxury!

10 Priorities March 3, 2011 at 8:36 AM

When the cuts get to the level of cutting necessary services, i.e. coverage by both police and fire for emergencies, there is something very wrong with it. A safe community is a necessity not a luxury.

11 Townie D March 3, 2011 at 4:58 AM

Maybe we should charge all the folks and companies in town with a false alarm fee. You call for it, You pay it. When the alarms keep going off (some homes and businesses are regulars) hit them up for the cost of a visit from our PD/EMS/FD! One way to get some extra cash and bring attention to all the false alarm calls.

12 Neil Rossen March 3, 2011 at 6:57 AM

It’s about time the knife was taken to the school budget. I was sent the following from WI on Teacher pay:
AVERAGE WAGE AND BENEFITS (9 months of work)
TEACHERS:
Milwaukee $86,297
Elmbrook $91,065
Germantown $83,818
Hartland Arrwhd $90,285 (highest teacher was $122,952-lowest was $64,942)
Men Falls $81,099
West Bend $82,153
Waukesha $92,902
Sussex $82,956
Mequon $95,297
Kettle Mor $87,676
Muskego $91,341

Now what are the stats for Southborough? And why don;’t we get real about the class size WE CAN AFFORD, rather than what we want.

13 Bill March 3, 2011 at 9:06 AM

I’m sorry. I don’t understand the ref. to WI teacher salaries. What does that have to do with Southborough MA?

14 Kelly Roney March 3, 2011 at 3:38 PM

Neil, several points:

1. Combining salary and benefits suggests an intent on the part of your source to mislead readers into comparing that number with their own salary alone. Most people outside of HR or finance don’t know their own benefits total.

2.. These numbers choose to highlight more expensive districts.

3. Teachers work 10 months, not 9.

With a quick Google, I found this Excel spreadsheet. It indicates that most Wisconsin teachers make a decidedly middle class income, not out of line at all.

15 John Boiardi March 7, 2011 at 3:18 PM

Kelly,

Teachers work 180 days a year. In the private sector people work 252 days. I’m not sure if teachers professional days count toward the 180 days. I’ve seen posts where teacher advocates point out thta teachers work 2 hours before school and two hours after. I don’t know about vacations and sick days.

16 Al Hamilton March 7, 2011 at 4:33 PM

John – I think a fair number for teachers is about 190 days. We mandate 180 days of instruction and there are a few prep days before school and “In Service” days. Teachers do receive holidays and vacations during the school year but I think 190 is a fair estimate of actual working days. By contrast a “typical” private sector worker works about 235 days. (52 Weeks – 3 weeks vacation – 10 holidays)

17 Bill March 7, 2011 at 6:09 PM

Teachers may work approximately 190 days, but they are PAID for 190 days. It seems to me that many of you are under the assumption that they are paid to hang around all summer. Teachers have the option to divide their salary so that they receive a check that reflects that division.
I think it’s time we all stop behaving as though a teacher is being paid rediculous amounts of money for babysitting.

18 Michael Moore March 3, 2011 at 8:45 AM

Public Safety is not an absolute.

I realize that this is no great revelation, but in the face of overblown rhetoric and dubious comparisons, I think it’s worth restating. No amount of money will get us to perfect public safety. No matter how well funded the fire department and police department are, there will still be fires and crime. It is not the case that if the fire department gets enough money, you will be safe while if they don’t you will be at risk. You are always at risk. The right question is which risk mitigation measures are most effective, especially when resources are scarce.

Comparing our budget to Northborough’s is meaningless. It doesn’t take into account the relative efficacy of measures for our two towns. Suggesting we gut the school budget in order to protect ourselves from crime is so wrongheaded I don’t know where to start.

I find Mauro’s comments in the article (with the possible exception of the “russian roulette” motif) to be completely reasonable. If we can effectively reduce our risk by increasing spending (that is, if the reduction in the calculated burden of risk is greater than the amount being spent) than we should do it. How we pay for it is another question. Diverting funds from other places where they’re needed should not be a preferred option.

19 Al Hamilton March 3, 2011 at 10:05 AM

If you are not in favor of “Diverting funds from other places where they’re needed” then either you believe that we should take money from where it is unneeded or you are in favor of getting new revenue which I will assume means increasing taxes above the already “locked in” 2.5%.

I would be interested in knowing which you are suggesting? If it is moving money from unneeded areas where do you suggest? If it is a tax increase then lets call it what it is.

20 Michael Moore March 3, 2011 at 11:30 AM

Fair enough, I’ll try to be more clear.

Adding and cutting budgets should be done based on clear cost-benefit analysis (I recognize that this is hard). When you get to a floor where it is not clear that you can cut x dollars from any program without losing far more than x amount of benefit, you need to raise revenue. As you rightly point out, that means more taxes.

Pushing back on existing budgets is important, but “taking a knife” to any given budget in a kind of fit of righteous indignation is a recipe for very bad decision making.

I’m not opposed to cuts to any existing budget (such as the school budget), but I want the ramifications of such cuts to be considered carefully and the decisions to be independent of the perceived needs of other departments.

If we’re going to put more money into a department, I want to do it based on a clear benefit rather than a sense of some nebulous impending calamity. I think Mauro makes a good case for such a benefit, and I don’t think it’s necessary or helpful for people to raise a hue and cry about disasters that might strike.

I think that’s all I was trying to say.

21 Al Hamilton March 3, 2011 at 3:56 PM

Michael

Thanks, very few people on this board have the integrity to say “I want to raise your taxes”

22 Neil Rossen March 3, 2011 at 9:20 AM

The clear reason for listing the WI pay to teachers is to ask the obvious and STATED question as to what the Sobo statistics are. The WI salaries are clearly outrageous. Are ours?

23 Bill March 3, 2011 at 9:40 AM

I guess I’m glad I don’t live in WI.

24 Parkerville guy March 4, 2011 at 6:21 PM

WI also has the highest SAT scores in the nation.

25 carrie alpert March 3, 2011 at 12:09 PM

I cannot even respond to a comment such as “it is time a knife was taken to the school budget”
if we have to raise taxes then so be it, if you take away more teachers and raise class sizes AGAIN there is going to be such an uprising and if you find some humor or find it fantastic because class sizes will then be smaller because a certain amount of people will leave for private let me tell you something with absolute clarity and honesty: the people who are leaving are the people who are time and time again the ones running the events that either raise money or help to give the schools a feeling of cohesiveness–take some pride in the kids, in what their future is going to be and what is at stake for them. i am still pushing for going after Fay–get noisy about it, there has to be a way for us as a town to hold them accountable for adding more students per calendar year to the system and not adding to our municipalities via funding them straight up. if not then we need to change it.

26 John Butler March 3, 2011 at 12:14 PM

We are now officially in that phase of the budget discussion in which normal language warps. I am going to engage in some de-warping for you.

The big rhetoric “Russian Roulette.” is being deployed. Translation: a chief wants something. If you think “Russian Roulette” might mean something more, lets look at a less colorful word that should have a plain meaning, and see if it means what you might think. Then you can calibrate the colorful stuff for yourself. Lets look at the word “cuts” as used above.

You probably think the phrase “budget cuts”, as strewn through the above, means less money than last year, right? That’s what it would mean for your household or your company, right? But not here. This is Southborough budget season language, “up is down”. “Cuts” here means “less money than I asked for” even though it is more than the year before.

Specifically if $170,000 is cut, as reported, from the prior total budget submitted by Selectmen to Advisory, that budget is still up 4.5% over the year before. If you “cut” $25000 from the Fire department request, as reported, that budget is still increasing 3% over last year. Furthermore, these numbers are before an upcoming union settlement. Hold onto your hats.

The overall translation of the story into normal language is that the budget requests are up more than we should tax. These speakers are trying to get you to take it from the schools. In one sense, that’s ok. The Selectmen and the Fire Chief are supposed to advocate for their departments. However the distortion of language, and the rhetoric is not helpful to voters, or to those of us who have to recommend what is best for the community as a whole.

On that topic, here is some information, trying to avoid the warp. It is possible to frame a budget that increases taxes by about 2% and maintains level budget funding with last year for the controllable budgets. Level funding will result in some service reductions. This is because Southborough seems not to be able to get out of the bad habit of paying more money for the same quantity of labor each year, even in recessionary times. This bad habit is the main problem, and is in the control of your elected officials when they negotiate contracts, as they are right now. There are other inefficiencies, as Al Hamilton will always point out, but unwarranted labor increases is the biggest problem.

A 2% tax increase and level funding across almost all budgets will result in fairly large layoffs in the schools, as we had last year, and probably scattered layoffs elsewhere, which we have not had. A 2% tax increase will probably make all those who manage the budgets, and the taxpayers, unhappy. There will be lots of fear mongering, empty gun chambers will fire at heads, and warped language will abound, as in the above story. All to try to sway your vote.

It would be possible to spend up to about 4.5% tax increase without an override. I am worried that this is the wrong thing to do, with those on social security getting no increase, and government everywhere accepting real budget reductions.

To me, this is where the debate lies. This is the range in which I am now unsure what to suggest, but am still trying to gather information. I think most on Advisory with me are in a similar debate with themselves about what is right.

I offer you no colorful language however, and will try to stick to the ordinary meanings of words.

27 Al Hamilton March 3, 2011 at 3:50 PM

Thanks for your clear explanation. The so called cuts are really reductions in the rate of increase.

We simply must get control of our labor costs AND begin to change some of our inefficient practices

28 carrie alpert March 3, 2011 at 6:13 PM

John,
Absolutely the most helpful post thus far–clear and concise language and laid forth for us to understand. I really want to hear your opinion once you gather more information and have had time to digest it.

thank you for all of your hard work!

29 Neil Rossen March 3, 2011 at 12:52 PM

“Taking a knife” to the school budgets has unfortunately been misinterpreted as being purely pejorative. I could have stated “making sensible reductions in staff and pay (or at least give NO increases) and have increases in class sizes”. Perhaps now that I am withdrawing the pejorative term (common in business, but clearly not to those who wish others to pay for their predelictions) maybe we can focus on those issues I raise.

30 saywhat March 3, 2011 at 2:14 PM

Didn’t taxpayers BUY a new ladder truck for the fire dept. recently? If I recall correctly,
it was not cheap.

As far as budget increases, why are taxpayers who:

1. are not receiving raises or
2. receive tiny raises – les than cost of living increasesor or
3. have already been laid off and are unemployed

expected to pay more in taxes to provide raises and benefits for municipal employees?

How does this work? If I make less money than I did last year, am I able to spend more money? If my expenses increase, can I tell my employer I must be paid more?

No.

I have to make changes in my SPENDING to balance that with my income. I’m reminded of the other thread from several days ago about unions. Can a town populated with people working non-union jobs afford to pay its municipal employees union wages and benefits?

Are *you* making union wages?

Can I demand that my employer pay me union wages? Oh wait – he just fell down laughing at me.

31 Neil Rossen March 3, 2011 at 3:18 PM

Could not agree more with “saywhat”. That these union people get ANY increases is absurd. Does adding just a few students per class mean that we are damaging the kids? What were the mid-term elections about? Clearly in MA and CA it was to retain the bad status quo. Elsewhere, change is coming despite lunatic demonstrations by overpaid union members. Most of the country is adjusting

32 Kelly Roney March 3, 2011 at 11:39 PM

We can debate what town employees should be paid. I have no problem with that.

But this scapegoating of unions by conservatives is ridiculous. Unions didn’t cause this recession. Wall Street did. Wall Street looting and fraud has taken more out of your pocket by far than unions have. Now the plutocratic Republican Party is making use of the crisis they caused to make further class warfare on the middle class. And middle class people are helping. That’s the real lunacy.

This doesn’t help us solve our real problem in Southborough, but I couldn’t let Neil’s absurd comment stand unopposed.

33 Al Hamilton March 4, 2011 at 7:59 AM

Kelly – You might be shocked to find that I mostly agree with you. Wall Street excesses, compounded with lax/incompetent oversight, and being aided and abetted by Fanny and Freddy caused this melt down.

If you wonder why no bankers have gone to jail yet consider the Wall Street/Goldman/Treasury/SEC/Fed revolving door. Add that to the fact that Wall St is the largest campaign donor to the Democrats and equally generous to the Republicans and you begin to smell the answer.

However, there is another game going on here. It is about the consequences of free and fair elections. It is no secret that the Republicans are trying to weaken unions. From their perspective it is a very rational act. Unions are the #2 source of money for the Democrats (at least according to NPR). Public sector unions are a particularly easy target. When the voters in Ohio and Wisc. threw the bums out and handed the Governorship and legislature to the Republicans (the new bums) it can hardly come as a surprise that they were going to confront the public sector unions this confrontation was facilitated by very real budget crises and a long term business model that is completely broken. Possibly the only intelligent thing that Bush-the-Younger ever said was “Elections have consequences”.

This is all quite interesting but non of it changes the fact that we have our own budget crisis, our own broken business model, our own large unfunded long term liabilities. We have no choice but to begin addressing these problems. This can mean very large tax increases, serious control of our labor costs, elimination of some of the substantial pockets of waste in town, and/or reducing services.

There is no place left to hide.

34 carrie alpert March 3, 2011 at 5:56 PM

yes Neil, change has come to the House as in they have passed such laws as “get rid of the biodegradable take out containers which the left brought about in their desire to save the planet and bring back the foam ones, the ones that sit in the landfills and leech into food!” and how do we know? because the new and improved House posted pictures of the sweeping changes on Twitter, great job focusing on creating J-O-B-S. –the kids seem to be testing rather well and the schools seem to be bustling with continuous growth and change even with your “bad status quo”, thanks.

and yes, adding a few kids to the class does mean that we are damaging the kids. it does. it does. it does.

it does.

35 Frank Crowell March 3, 2011 at 6:43 PM

Well that settles that: increasing class size damages kids.

Proof? Not needed.

36 carrie alpert March 4, 2011 at 9:50 AM

maybe the word is not damaging but rather “will achieve and learn less in an environment that is far less conducive to a spirit of forward thinking education” (that is my quote) that works for me.
not everyone looks at the school system as a factory–

37 Frank Crowell March 4, 2011 at 11:58 AM

How does the teachers union look at a school system?

Cash cow for their members.

38 carrie alpert March 4, 2011 at 2:15 PM

generally speaking the 8 and under crowd is focused on math facts and the 5th graders are working on a book report–no discussions of unions in the classrooms or even an awareness that they exist. class size matters.

39 John Boiardi March 5, 2011 at 5:28 PM

Frank,
Just for the record the official student teacher ratio for Southborough
is 14.4. Check it out on the official state web site. What are you advocating- one on one? There are studies that say the ratio matters and there are studies that say the ratio doesn’t matter, the quality of the teacher is the determing factor. My feeling is we only have the ratio we can afford.

40 Pat Q March 6, 2011 at 8:53 AM

I think you have to be careful with the 14/4 ratio you note above. There is a differece between class size and student/teacher ratio. In most venues student/ teacher ratios are calculated as the number of students in a district compared to the number of “teaching professionals”. In other words, the principal, guidance counselors, physical education, art and music teachers are all traditionally counted as teachers when you calculate this ratio even though they may not be in the classroom at a given moment.

It is more accurate to consider class size for the teachers rather than student/teacher ratios when arguing certain points.

41 Just the facts March 3, 2011 at 8:40 PM

I am not one to get in to this back and forth bla bla bla all of you have been talking about in this blog, However….

I offer you all this challenge, if you so choose to put in the effort (because it should take a lot of effort if you want blog). Take some time and gather all your facts on the (Southborough) budgets and where the funds are allocated. I think (actually pretty certain) you’ll find that many of your comment are off kilter. It may be one of those, **ahhh** I get it, moments in life.

One quick example, let’s take say fuel/gas price increases. This doesn’t just affect you and me but the Town’s operations as well. You and I pay more and likewise the Town must pay more. Budgets are increased to reflect this increase. When a requested budget is “cut”, (i.e. cut down from the requested increase, say 4.6% to 2.6%), then in reality the actual operating budget is getting cut, because the fuel/gas increases still needed to paid. As such, cuts in service need to be made to make up the monies to pay the bills.

There are so many variable that go in to budgeting, especially municipal (non-black & white numbers) budgets. I understand and agree (as a tax payer) with your frustrations; however we need to make things work and as Mr. Rooney said, “Prioritize”. That is what we must face ‘today’, that doesn’t mean forever. Other budgets that get reduced or class sizes that get increased ‘today’ can always be modified for the better as the economy gets better. The unfortunate truth is that the life hazards (and I am not talking about a catastrophic disaster but everyday treats/emergencies) to citizens are not affected by the economy and thus need to remain adequate (not exuberant) but adequate, and from what my eyes see from the numbers and your comments it sub-adequate ‘today’ and that is just plain an simply “not right’.

I leave you with this: Think of your own cut backs you have had to make as a result of this economy. I’ll bet (if you are like me and most Americans) that you have cut back on buying luxury items (comparison class size) to keep affording your necessities (comparison public safety).

42 John Butler March 3, 2011 at 11:26 PM

“Just the facts” sounds good, but unfortunately really is “very few facts”

About 70% of the fire department budget increase, as requested, is for more money that goes to employees, under one justification or another, and that is without allocating the increase in benefit costs, which is even larger percent increase, and without the union agreement in place. This problem is not gas.

If the cost of labor for the same number of labor hours was constant, we could deal with the reduced revenue from the State, and such miscellaneous other cost increases occur, and hold services constant. Increasing labor and benefits expenses are the chronic big issue.

I don’t mean to pick on fire department. This problem is pretty much the same regardless of what big budget you choose.

Bear in mind, for those who don’t know me, I am not in the anti-tax, anti-public employee crowd that sometimes writes here. I respect them, and want them to have a voice, as Neil Rossen knows, but he also knows we disagree on the substance.

Nevertheless, I am now worried about the fairness of large tax increases to some of our citizens and I don’t see any easy answers.

43 bob a March 4, 2011 at 7:27 AM

Yea

Russian Roullette

The difference here is that there are 10,000 chambers in the gun and only one bullet.

Lets get real here.

Start to cut pay or lay off of town employees.

Town employees and teachers are great but take a look around you and realize what is happening to US!!!!!!

The chief’s scare tactics are ridiculous.

44 Neil Rossen March 4, 2011 at 7:39 AM

Kelly, I get it. You’re a left wing socialist, and I’m a conservative Republican. So there is no meeting point – you willl vote for higher taxes, I won’t. Who caused the crisis? It was both POLITICAL parrties who never attended to Freddie Mae/MAc (Who gave both parties contributions – but mainly to Dems) and encouraged loans to those that could not afford them (Frank/Dodd were the main instigators ironocally enough). The Bush administration made the case to congress (well before it was too late) on more than one ocassion but were ignored. Those are the facts You can ignore them though with political slogans. At least you’re out in the open now.

45 Bill March 4, 2011 at 9:17 AM

I was under the impression that this was a neighborhood ‘friendly’ blog. Was I wrong?

46 Earl E. Byrd March 4, 2011 at 10:35 AM

We left the friendly neighborhood and blew by the “Entering Crazytown” sign early yesterday.

Sad as I, and I suspect many others agree with some of the views of those who choose to share ideological rants rather than focus on the facts and reality of the situation our little town is facing.

Thank you to those who have stayed on topic. For those of us unable to be more involved what you have shared is tremendously helpful.

47 Kelly Roney March 4, 2011 at 6:42 PM

So…

I acknowledge the need to debate pay for public employees, but decry scapegoating of their unions, and for this I get called names. Not unexpectedly…

The truth about the housing bubble, mortgage fraud, and financial crisis is that Fannie and Freddie arrived late to the party, after the private mortgage and financial industry had subverted lending standards on their own. F & F were late in part because they were regulated – not regulated enough, it turned out, to keep them from emulating the fraudulent practices they were competing with.

Don’t believe me? Look at this:

Fannie and Freddie became fairly large players in the subprime market, and they got that way by following the rest of the market down in lowering lending standards, etc. But they did not lead it down. Their actions came in response to a significant loss of market share, and it is this loss of market share that motivated them to take on more subprime loans.

We need to understand why the overall market – the part outside of Fannie and Freddie’s domain – was able to lower lending standards (and increase their risk exposure in other ways as well), and how regulation which had worked up to that point failed to keep Fannie and Freddie from dutifully responding to the market pressures on behalf of shareholders by duplicating the strategy themselves, but again, they were followers, not leaders.

The Community Reinvestment Act had been around for decades. It didn’t send F & F off the deep end. Competition – fraudulent competition – to match corrupt private lenders did.

Still, even this truth is useless for solving Southborough’s very real budgetary problems.

48 mike fuce March 4, 2011 at 8:47 AM

This is my opinion only and not reflective of the committee I sit on in Southboro. And to preface this I absoutely appreciate and care for 85% of our teahcers, fire, police, public works and town employees. So it is not personal at all. I too am very concerned with the increases for all union employees (government workers or funded corporations by taxes like PBS) – because that is where the real increases are, and the unfunded mandates that are passed down from the state and federal government usually have their genesis from union or politically led proffessional politicians. Sometimes those mandates come with 50, 70, 100% funding but all are decreasing or have completely gone away over time. In a Capitol Budget meeting last night, what concerned me most was the condition of our fleet of vehicles for police, fire and public works. I personaly have inspected all the vehicles and how the vehicles are managed and let me say many are plain unsafe – I mean it, I would not ask my men and women to drive them. And you and I would not drive them either. In addition, we are using very important fire aparatus that is 10+ years old. They are called thermal imagers. So the firemen and women can see heat images of people in a smoke filled room. Because of their age, they have and can fail at any moment putting our firemen in grave danger. So my recommendation is to put all our vehicles on a rotation out cycle. Four years, 85K miles, rotate out. It is a must for safety. I have recommended replacing old equipment on a regular basis that makes sense so that people and firemen are not in life threatening danger. I made a recommendation that we have two very high gas mileage vehicles available for travel to out of town traings, travel to get parts for vehicles et.. They are cheap comparitively, and easy to rotate out. And I don’t think our cops should be driving at 85/90 mph in a pursuit in a vehicle that has 100K plus miles on it ( we have two in the fleet). I don’t think our public works folks should be driving trucks back to the shed because the brakes have failed and the mechanic does not have a truck with tools to drive out to patch it or get it back (our public works is tremendous in what they do with so littel). That is the state of the state on the fleet and safety gear in Southboro. I do not think it is helpful for Rooney, Alpert or the conservative to be flinging the balme game (I am conservative for the record). You are obviously heated and almost inciting violence (getting loud). Stick to the facts and the facts will win the day whether conservative or liberal. Dont descend into I have no more real facts so I will throw names or blame like a child. So here we are with the facts. The cost of labor is too high (salary, benefits, retirenebt, training, time off, vacations). We can either level fund salaries and benefits or lay off workers. Or, in my estimation, I/we/town can actually take the unioin employees and sorry to say this teachers, fire, police and public works and town administrators to task and tell them this. Either you talk with us directly or you loose workers. Then our services go down in the case of shcools, protection and safety, and the town gets more angry, and we outright fire all union employees. I dont think that is a real smart alternative but at this point we/I/you need to hold the bully accountable. And the bully is the unioins. It is not comfortable for Advisroy but they are doing it. It is not comfortable for Budget Committe but we are doing it (several votes were unanomous and several where not). I think BOS gets it now and is doing a better job of it. Unfortunately there will be many of our emloyees who wont like us but we have to stand firm at this junction and say enough is enough of the bad behavior. The last group that needs to be brought into this discussion is the elected School Boards which to this point I have seen only as supporting the professional educrats with more money and teachers for the system. I do not think they are holding anyone at the school level accountable. Maybe they are but I dont see it at all. It is not an attack but they seem to go along with the superintendents recommendation carte blanche. It is not a sustainable model folks and it needs to be changed and dealt with now. No one can afford their taxes going from $7600 to 9800 in five years. A retired person can not afford their taxes going from $2500 to $4000 in five years. And you know what we can no longer pay for public employees to retire with full benefits and 80 to 100% salary after 20 or 30 years of service. I dont, you dont, but they do. It is not an attack, it is not saying they dont provide a valuable service, it is not that I dont like them, I do. So my recommendation will be to bring the unioins, all of them to the table, if they won’t negotiate we lay off teahers and fire and police and we hire part time non union folks to fill the gaps until we are in line with a sustainable model. And at the same time make the purchases that keep our town emloyees safe in vehicles, fire fighting and protection. Only one man’s opinion.

49 John Butler March 4, 2011 at 11:35 AM

Before people respond to this remarkable post by supposing that Advisory Committee is opposed to the recommendations of Capital Budget about the equipment discussed, let me say that in the one meeting held with Capital Budget we agreed with all the recommendations they had finalized at that time. These included, for example, the heat sensors for the Fire Department. There were some open capital items remaining to be considered by Capital Budget, and some of what is reported here may have been in that category as “yet to be voted upon by Capital Budget.”

50 Al Hamilton March 4, 2011 at 2:58 PM

Mike

While I agree with many of the sentiments you espouse I have to disagree with you about buying new police cruisers and by extension fire apparatus and some other capital items.

The ugly truth is that one of the first budget requests to be reduced in any budget discussion is capital equipment maintenance. It is, frankly, easier to ask for a new police criuser that to do the dull work of keeping one in good condition. Take the following Calculation for example:

A new police cruiser is about $35,000. If we keep it for 4 years then the cruiser depreciation costs us $8750 per year. If we can keep it for another year in good operating conditions for less than $8750 of non routine (breaks, tires, oil, shocks etc) repairs we come out ahead. $8750 will buy a new engine, it will buy a new transmission. But, the money to properly maintain this vehicle was eliminated from the budget because we never do this analysis. I assure you that the same case can be made for Fire Equip.

This drama is played out with our Fire Equip, DPW equip, and in our facilities. We should be setting aside something on the order of $250k to keep our rotting buildings in good condition but we have cut that line item every year. However, we would rather keep the rotten once than consolidate and use the resulting funds for to maintain the rest.

Other communities keep their police cars longer and by the way those cars when they are sold for $100 or so go on to spend the next 200k miles as taxis which have a very similar duty cycle to police crusiers. Next time you take a cab ask the driver how many miles are on the vehicle he/she relies on to feed his/her family.

51 John Boiardi March 5, 2011 at 7:40 AM

The issue is going to be-who shows up at town meeting. Will it be protect public safety budgets, protect the schools, protect the seniors or protect all taxpayers. What ever your position, attendance at town meeting and participating in the democratic process is imperative. The BoS and Advisory are trying to address the affect of budget requests on taxes. All budgets are going to have to feel the pain,even the budgets we can’t control such as the school budget. The BofS only controls 30-40% of the budget. If the School Committee doesn’t get the message vote them out.

52 John Boiardi March 5, 2011 at 7:51 AM

Mike,

You are correct in your comments about the school committee. All you have to do is endure watching a school committee meeting on cable channel 37. It is a total lovefest. The school administration asks, the school committee falls all over the proposal and agrees no matter what. Would the SC ever agree to a budget cut? I doubt it. Don’t take my word for it. Take the time to watch a meeting

53 Just the facts March 4, 2011 at 3:58 PM

I think that all of you need to take good hard look at the salaries of the members of each department and the Town Hall and the related services they provide.

Fire, Police & DPW workers do not make ‘huge’ base salaries and there are very few (as many may call them ‘hidden’) incentives (i.e. stipends for required and above and beyond skills, etc), which add up to peanuts in the grand scheme of things. Total salaries are bigger due to overtime.

Due to the operational budget cuts over the last several years, mixed with the denial of the powers to be to hire necessary personnel, has resulted in necessary and many times mandatory overtime to provide minimal/adequate/mandated staffing and services; be it plowing roads, having only 4 firefighters or having only 2 police officers (and folks those are the numbers, that is all you have servicing/protecting you). When was the last time any of us got ‘forced to work’ on our day off or holiday or son/daughters birthday? Oh yeah, and how many ‘snow days did civilian and non-essential town/government employees have off this winter. DPW/Fire/Police members did not have these days off.

Let’s talk about the teacher salaries. No doubt they provide a great service, however look at their benefit package. They get paid more than DPW/Fire/Police members and have off all holidays, winter break, February & April vacations and the summer. What a deal.

We need to take a look at other non-essential areas we can cut before we start talking about layoffs and axing union workers, not all of whom are evil.

Lastly, while I agree reliable safe equipment is important, I don’t support funding them at the determent of services and personnel. It’s great to have new shiny truck, but who is going to drive it?

54 Mike Hanigan March 6, 2011 at 2:58 PM

I believe it is wrong to try to cast the budget as an “us” versus the teachers argument.

There are many different ways to look at why teachers get a reasonable salary, and we all have our own idea of what “reasonable” really means, but you are totally incorrect to say that a teacher makes a higher salary than a fireman in Southborough. Factor in the EMS bonus/stipends,etc and the numbers are at least equivalent.

Lets look at educational requirements. Is there any requirement for a fireman to attend college, let alone have a master’s degree? Nope.

Also, tell me one other job in America where someone gets paid to sleep? And yes, I know that once in a while, they have to wake up and respond to an ambulance call. Check the Villager for the weekly log and tell me how often a firefighter has to wake up from his paid sleep and work for an hour then go back to bed.

Most firefighters I have met have a second job working in the trades. Good for them. That’s one of the benefits of working the schedule they have and I’ll bet that’s also one of the reason they chose that career. Policemen and DPW folks don’t have that schedule. Should they get paid more than the firemen?

I hope this post raised some hackles with the folks that have been posting the “us” versus the teachers. Every town employee provides some benefit to this town. Every one! Its just divisive to make this an “us” versus “them” argument.

Every town employee deserves a fair wage.

And no, I am not a teacher. I’m just a frustrated resident who gets tired of the rants against one part f the town or another.

55 Bill March 6, 2011 at 5:00 PM

Thank you. At long last a reasonable voice.

56 Frank Crowell March 7, 2011 at 10:26 AM

Mike – Speaking only for myself, I look at it as us vs. the teacher’s union which is a big difference. My mind would be changed if the union allowed 1) merit pay increases, 2) the weeding out of poorly performing teachers and 3) eliminating first in first out rule. In some cases, this state and others, the union is at least talking about these changes.

57 Mike Hanigan March 7, 2011 at 7:22 PM

Frank,

Shouldn’t that argument also apply to all municipal unions?

58 Frank Crowell March 8, 2011 at 7:18 AM

If memory serves me well, some of the municipal employees gave concessions in near past. Fairly sure that did not happen with the teacher’s union – unless the new contract changes that.

59 Pat Q March 6, 2011 at 8:35 AM

Peggy Noonan said it beautifully in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal:

“It doesn’t matter if you are a liberal or a conservative, its all about the numbers and the numbers are sobering things. The rise of arithmatic as a player in the drama is politically promising because when people argue over data and hard facts, and not over ideological loyalties and impulses, progress is more possible.” ……….”The very force of the numbers has the heartening effect of squeezing ideology right out of the story”.

60 John Butler March 6, 2011 at 7:54 PM

If anyone wants to know the current state of budget deliberations, the details of both Advisory and Selectmen draft positions are available at southboroughadvisory.com. Look in the Notes section (top page) and the Files page for latest spreadsheet files. If you do this, realize that usually budgets that have not been acted upon are carried at the “request” level. This doesn’t mean that either group supports the number shown. On the AdvisoryMain tab, those amounts that have been voted show the votes and the number in blue. Furthermore if you look at the spreadsheet and have questions about how it works, you can email me at the address on the Members page. I’ll try to answer your question.

61 Dave March 7, 2011 at 7:15 PM

The New York Times, in an article published on March 6, 2011 entitled “Are State and Local Government Employees Paid Too Much”? provided a (relatively) objective comparison between public and private employees. In 2009 average salary and benefits, the private sector average was 61,000 while the public was 70,000. This was an increase of 132% for private workers since 1948 and 183% for public workers.

There was a significant difference in benefits and hours of work, as has been discussed in this blog. The interesting part of the analysis was that while 49% of public employees have a college degree, only 29% of private employees do. Perhaps that is one factor to consider when looking at pay and benefits, it may be based upon a better educated public sector workforce. The web page is: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/06/us/public-private-employees.html?scp=1&sq=Are%20State%20and%20Local%20Government%20Employees%20Paid%20Too%20Much%22&st=cse

62 lawnboy March 7, 2011 at 9:40 PM

what the town spends on lawn care, fertilizing, prunning of shrubs, mulch, spring clean up, fall clean-up. I believe the number is in the 125k a year range. They contract to mow the lawns every week. How about every other week, or maybe purchase a mower for the front of the articulating sidewalk tractor and have a dpw worker, or a seasonal summer kid mow the grass. Maybe we should cut back on the fertilizer so the grass doesnt grow as much, and even the automatic sprinklers. Heaven forbid, we go a week without a cut, or we end up with crab grass and broadleaf weeds, or grubs, or the grass burns because of lack of water. Dont put down mulch this year, dont trim the shrubs this year. When I was a kid we weeded the in field, we mowed the lawn, maybe some of the baseball/soccer/softball associations can pitch in or pay for these fields to get cut. This is Southborough and it is a beautiful town, and the fields and town areas look very nice. But in my house, if I cant afford fertilizer, I dont put it down, If I cant afford to have someone cut my lawn, I dont hire them, etc….

Think about your prioritites folks, your taking money from the Fire Department, with whom you depend on to save your life and property, Taking from the Police Department who protect your life and property, but we are still making the grass green and grow, and shaping our shrubs and putting down mulch.

All these things can grow back and are replaceable, a human is not and the cut in public safety service is a game of roulette as the fire chief stated. Spread the word at the Spa, get the buzz going, if we are trying to cut a 1.2 million dollar deficit, I bet you could trim 5 to 7.5% from grounds and fields. Creativity.

63 Mike Hanigan March 7, 2011 at 11:09 PM

Lawnboy,

The “baseball/soccer/softball associations” do pay for the grass maintenance by a per person fee which I believe is about $25 per kid per season. Also, baseball pays for the cuts at baseball fields, maintains the infields, and spends many thousands of dollars to improve the ball fields. Softball and soccer pay for the actual cost for use of the lights at Woodward. The town pays to cut the grass at the fields because they have to do anyway so the kids can use the fields during school time. The town sports also pay to line the fields.

64 Mike Hanigan March 7, 2011 at 11:11 PM

Lawnboy –

You don’t want to even start thinking about what it will cost to maintain, irrigate, and fertilize the triangle project. Let’s hope that project didn’t lose many plants over the winter and that it looks beautiful when the snow melts.

65 lawnboy March 8, 2011 at 7:55 AM

it doesnt need to be beautiful now, there are other priorties in town now

66 John Butler March 8, 2011 at 2:01 AM

Advisory Committee met with all the large budget departments Monday night (3/7). The School Committee is meeting Wednesday. Even though they were in attendance, we didn’t get any new numbers from them yet, per an agreement with them to allow them to meet before reporting back to us.

Unless the trajectory of this season changes, I would guess that we are likely to prepare a budget that is under the Prop 2.5 tax cap, but in the range of a 4% to 4.5% tax increase for residents. For years I have supported tax increases to fund services. Nevertheless, this year I think this is more than we should be increasing taxes in the present economic circumstances.

A meaningfully lower number, for example, a 2% increase in taxes, would require no spending increases over last year in most departments. This will result in real service reductions and loud objections from the affected budget owners. It would mean about $180 in lower taxes for the average house when compared to 4.3% increase at the tax cap.

If you would like to see such a reduced rate of spending growth, you should make your voice heard right now at meetings of Advisory Committee, School Committee and Board of Selectmen. The most effective input would focus on asking for generally balanced spending reductions and be accepting of service reductions. If you have your pet department that should be exempt from such cuts, recognize that everyone else does also. Therefore, if you start by choosing what you want to protect, expecting to extract all the cuts from other budgets, we aren’t going to get there. Furthermore, contrary to some of the blog comments above, this is not achievable with changes to such things as lawn cutting, donations from private schools, or from disparagement of unions, teachers, or other public employees. The less ideological posturing right now, the better.

On the other hand, if you would rather pay the extra $180, or whatever it is for your home, and are comfortable that your decision is binding on all taxpayers, then feel free to let that opinion be heard also. I think such opinion is perfectly respectable, even though, this year, I am not comfortable with such increases.

67 Priorities March 8, 2011 at 8:56 AM

As per today’s Metrowest Daily News article, the Advisory Committee heard from Chief Mauro and eight of his officers at last night’s meeting. Now that you have heard from the fire department first hand, do you stand by this statement?

“The big rhetoric “Russian Roulette.” is being deployed. Translation: a chief wants something.”

Are the chief’s justifications for his budget “rhetoric” or is the fire department making a budget request that appears to be looking out for the safety of Southborough residents? Where does Advisory, or you Mr. Butler, now stand on the FD’s 35K budget cut?

68 John Butler March 8, 2011 at 10:19 AM

A justification phrased as “russian roulette” is clearly “rhetoric”. I don’t think that such phrasing is helpful, as the Town tries to make a decision under difficult circumstances. Nor is calling a budget increase “budget cuts” helpful. I think it is useful for readers to think about how language is used to try to persuade them as they try to decide how to vote.

However it is easy to be quoted in the newspaper using common phases such as this. It certainly doesn’t mean that the chief’s budget request isn’t “looking out for the safety of Southborough residents.” I think all the budget requests are done sincerely in the best interests of the Town. Yet, we must make reductions.

Advisory has not yet voted on Fire budget nor has Town Meeting, which makes the ultimate decision. I can’t say yet how I will vote until we see the whole picture. I would like to support the increase the Chief has requested. I would like to not increases taxes again for seniors. Those are hard to do together.

69 John Kendall March 8, 2011 at 2:46 PM

Mr. Butler, are these your own thoughts or are they the thought of the entire Advisory Committee (never any chat from Claire Reynolds)? And call it rhetoric, call it what you want, the Fire Chief didn’t make the “Russian Roulette” quote to stir action by voters. If you’ve ever been any type of rescue worker, be it firefighter, EMT, police officer, then you would know that one or two people cannot do the job safely. That’s why there are NFPA standards for firefighting, Massachusetts Office of Emergency Medical Services requirements, Criminal Justice Council recommendations……to make these jobs safer! So when everyone at Town Meeting has the chance to see these budgets, please keep things in mind and in perspective before recommending further cuts to Public Safety. Nobody in crisis should have to wait for help.

70 John Butler March 8, 2011 at 4:19 PM

Clearly, my writing here makes no claim about what the Advisory Committee thinks.

You are entitled to your view about whether talk of Russian Roulette is intended to persuade, or about whether budget increases should be called “further budget cuts”, as each may judge for themselves. I would point out that today, in nearly every governmental and business setting, whether the topic is fire, police, education, defense, or business budgets, “cuts” does not mean “budget increases less than we would like.” It is a mark of Southborough’s economic insularity that it is still able to indulge in this inverted dialect that is now spoken almost nowhere else.

Even purged of the rhetoric, however, many people, myself included, may decide that the current proposed Fire Dept budget warrants our support.

71 Priorities March 9, 2011 at 8:40 AM

John, I agree with your final points completely and I, generally, appreciate your participation on this blog.
However, I don’t think it is helpful to characterize someone’s choice of words, potentially chosen out of frustration, as “rhetoric,” especially if you weren’t actually present at the meeting to hear the back-up explanation or the context in which he was speaking. Your original comment insinuated that Chief Mauro was exaggerating the situation to simply “get his own way” and I don’t think that was fair. You’re perpetuating the “rhetoric” with more “rhetoric.”
Many people are reading comments such as yours instead of attending meetings. Commentary of this kind should be carefully worded, especially comments from members of the boards charged with crafting the budget for Town Meeting approval. Pulling phrases out of a blog or out of a newspaper article is dangerous and doesn’t get us any closer to a budget we can all live with. Case in point, yesterday’s article quoted Ms. Reynolds as being “disappointed” by “negative talk.” Negative talk could be eliminated and the waters much less muddy if people showed up at meetings to engage in the discussions. I, for one, would like to see ALL budget meetings take place with both the BOS and Advisory in attendance so that department heads get strong, unified, SINGULAR direction. We must stop sending department heads on a months-long task of trying to hit a constantly moving target. It’s demoralizing for them, as we heard last week, and it’s expensive for taxpayers.

72 Al Hamilton March 9, 2011 at 9:26 AM

Priorities

There is no reason to believe that the BOS and the Advisory will be in accord as to budget levels for departments. They have fundamentally different missions.

The BOS is an Executive body responsible for the roughly 30% of the budget that is under its Authority. It would only be human nature for them to advocate for those departments to some extent. The BOS is responsible in detail for how those budgets are spent.

The Advisory Committee is a Legislative Body, a sub committee of Town Meeting. The Advisory is responsible for making a recommendation to Town Meeting for a balanced budget, for all areas of local government, which includes both spending and taxation. Advisory is the only body in town that has the formal responsibility to do this. Advisory, as a legislative entity, does not exercise day to day control over budgets as do the BOS, School Committees etc.

So, there is absolutely no reason to expect that, particularly early in the budget season, there will be a unified, singular direction in the budget. I get a little tired of listening to the whining of some department heads on this subject as it clearly indicates a lack of understanding of the respective roles of the executive and legislative bodies in our government. If they don’t like it they should seek alternative employment because this is how democracy is supposed to work.

73 John Butler March 9, 2011 at 10:15 AM

I have chosen my words carefully and I stand by them, not pseudonymously.

I noted in the chief’s defense that “it is easy to be quoted in the newspaper using common phases such as this. It certainly doesn’t mean that the chief’s budget request isn’t “looking out for the safety of Southborough residents.'” I think all the budget requests are done sincerely in the best interests of the Town. Yet, we must make reductions.”

All language is an attempt to persuade. I am trying to cause people to see the emotive force of phrases such as “russian roulette”, trying to persuade them to think carefully. I choose my language to try to foster that goal. If the phrase Russian roulette had not been packaged with repeated talk that characterized budget increases as budget “cuts” I might have been less inclined to call it out for attention.

My concerns this year are not unemotional however. If I were going to craft an emotional statement it would be about people who for years have been barely getting by here on social security without cost of living increases, who would be thrilled at any increase and would not have the sense of entitlement to call it a “cut” merely because they once hoped for more, who feel that Town Meeting is far too public a place for them to bare their fears. There comes a time to say “enough”, and I am emotionally troubled that this now, for those people’s sake, should be that time. But I am handicapped by only being able to deploy the rhetoric of asking you to think carefully before you tax more.

74 lawnboy March 8, 2011 at 5:01 PM

Mr. Butler, you mean to tell me that by not looking at the private contract for the upkeep of all the ball fields and town areas, you couldnt save money? Remember the drought last summer, the grass hadnt grown in a month, the mowing crew was running over it every week. My point to my comment, is there are other areas that have some fat, like the grounds maintenance. You dont think if we dont put fertilizer down and trim shrubs, spread mulch, and trim back on irrigation, and mow on an every other week basis, we wont save money? This is an area that can be trimmed to narrow the deficit.

Lets talk about the russian roulette comment. Do you understand when the Fire department is out on a call, and I believe the chief said 28% of the time the fire department has 2 calls going at once, this means there is no one, NO ONE at the station to answer the next call. Sometimes when their is a single call the Fire department needs all personnal when NO ONE is at the station. So when the next call comes in, you are waiting for Marlboro, Westboro, Ashland, or Framingham to come. So lets play the scenario that you had an emergency at your house, whether it be a fire or a medical, and it took the fire department or mutual aid a significant amount of time to get to you or a loved one, and the outcome could leave your house a pile of rubble, or this could lead to incapacitation or death. Heaven forbid this happens, but this is not a scare tactic or rhetoric, this is the facts. Now lets say our revovler is a six shooter. The way they operate today, theirs 3 blanks and 1 bullet in the revolver. More cuts to the fire department budget, will leave you with no blanks and one bullet. With this being said, do you want to be the person that draws the bullet? I cant imagine you do.

It’s all going to boil down to town meeting because the taxpayers are the ones who will make the final decision, but I dont think the taxpayers understand the consequences to the cuts to the fire or police. The people need to know what is going on, and not find out the consequences after the fact. There are numerous taxpayers that have no idea the way things run today and how their services have been reduced. Maybe we can do a reverse 911 call to inform the residents of the about the time and date of town meeting so they can get there and be educated on what they are voting on. Or better yet we can get the press involved. Maybe the word or buzz at the Spa should be to get them to come to town meeting because there are huge impacts on service to them.

75 John Butler March 8, 2011 at 8:41 PM

The lawn subject is not worth a lot of space here. Yes we can look at. No, it cannot contribute a significant fraction of a reduction from a 4.6% tax increase to a 2% tax increase. That was my point.

The Fire response subject deserves more careful discussion but I will warn that the subject is very complex to present in this small space. Realize first of all that the situation you describe, of no ambulances available belonging to the Town when two are out, would not be improved upon by the Chief’s requested budget, and that all surrounding communities, as well as ourselves, carry some risk of this. All depend upon mutual aid, response from an adjoining community, to cover such situation. No town our size can fight a structural fire without heavy mutual aid. The frequency with which a need for mutual aid could arise, could possibly be affected somewhat by the different budget levels. Although I would not like to see that happen, my view was that calling the budget increase a budget cut and calling this situation “russian roulettte” was not helpful to an understanding of the facts. I think that your persistent talk of cuts when we are talking about budgetary increases and your extrapolation of that to “no blanks and one bullet” is a good example of the problems encouraged by inflammatory language. By the way, we have never, ever, had a capacity to field more than two ambulances at once, so your reference to “how services are being reduced” is also potentially subject to misinterpretation.

76 carrie alpert March 8, 2011 at 5:32 PM

John,
i do not think that we are looking for any more donations from Fay, we are looking for them to actually pay–pay for the students they put through our system via their faculty teaching at their school and pay for services they are using which are more now that 2 new buildings have been built. Why are we as a group of educated and crafty people letting them get away with it?
I am in favor of a tax increase at this point if the town is not willing to go after the private schools to pay for their fare share and i think that what will eventually happen is that the townspeople are going to turn on the private institutions in a very grand way.
and i do not think it will have anything to do with ideology at that point but rather people will honestly have their backs to the wall

77 John Butler March 8, 2011 at 8:53 PM

Regardless of the merits of the discussion about private schools, we have to decide how much to tax ourselves at our Town Meeting on April 11, about one month from today. We are not allowed to tax non-profits, such as these, by state law. That law is not going to change, certainly not soon enough for us to base any decisions on any situation other than the current one.
The thrust of what I have been writing about here is ask people to consider the problem of what is the level at which we should tax ourselves, without the intrusion of emotional language and without too much focus on ideas which we cannot act upon in time to alter our decision.

78 Al Hamilton March 9, 2011 at 8:12 AM

John

I have tremendous respect for the work that Advisory does every year. And certainly we need to have some focus on the ATM. But, I have to say that our budget process is broken badly. Because the budget process happens over a period of a few months just before the ATM we, of necessity, assume that next year the town will do what it did last year. We never ask the hard questions. We never ask if we really want to continue to offer all the services we currently offer or would we be better off defunding one service to protect or enhance another. We never ask or investigate if there are more effective and efficient ways to deliver a service. We never ask if we are using all our resources in the most efficient and cost effective way. We never really struggle with controlling labor costs. It is just whittle away at the paper clips.

Our budget process is fundamentally bottom up and while that approach has its merits, innovation and resolving big issues are not among them. We never, for example tell the School Committees or BOS in advance “This is how much money Advisory is prepared to approve, figure out how you are going to live within that amount”.

I would like to propose that Advisory, in the off season, prepare a 5 year budget blueprint. That blueprint could be placed on the TM agenda and voted on. This would then give each of our Executives some guidlines that they could plan for and would encourage more top down budgeting and grappling with the hard questions.

Finally Carrie is right. While we can’t deal with the Private School issue in this budget cycle we need to have a plan to deal with it in the long run. Some things may take legislation, others may be done by executive authority or by informal action.

79 John Butler March 9, 2011 at 9:28 AM

Al,
I understand your frustration. Advisory Committee is part of the Town Meeting process. Except on the grounds of democracy (a very powerful ground by the way), I cannot defend the outcomes as very satisfying. (That statement is a paraphrase from a microcosm of the famous Churcillian, “Democracy is the worst system except all those that have been tried.”)

I will ask the Chair to put your suggestions onto a meeting agenda and invite you to join us. I am open to any ideas.

I do think that the root of the frustration that you feel is that the working majority of Town Meeting attendees have been those who would rather see their taxes go up than worry much about efficiency, when faced with claims from whatever department may be wanting more money. I cannot say that I have any yardstick, that would be capable of being used over the long term, by which to judge that bias, either harshly or approvingly, because open Town Meeting seems to me most nearly to define its own yardstick.

80 lawnboy March 8, 2011 at 7:53 AM

Ok mike, thanks for the news. How about, cutting the grass 2 times a month, and cutting back on fertilizer and irrigation, and prunning and mulch, I am sure when you were a child you didnt play on such plush fields. I would be willing to be you had the lip at third and there bare spots of grass all over. This post was intended to see another area where we can save money, we do not need pristine right now, we can fix it when we have the money, it will grow back. It was a thought I had to save money, to help the town budget, where right now the money is needed, not in fertilzer, irrigation, mulch prunning and mowing every week.

81 carrie alpert March 9, 2011 at 7:09 AM

John,
i value what you have to say because it is always so concise and cuts to the chase. if you are trawling this blog the bottom line is this, ” at what level are you willing to have a tax increase for services you so desperately want?” and you have to get to the Town Meeting and VOTE

i would like to know how we change the relationship we have between the Town and the Private Schools, it is not enough to say “it is the law” we are the subscribers of the law and we are the ones who can back it and change it.

82 John Boiardi March 9, 2011 at 12:53 PM

Carrie,
I wish we could get our state legislators to address private schools. In Southborough our two private schools gobbel up our real estate, taking the property off the tax base. They recieve public saftey benefits practically gratis. They throw the town an insulting bone with ratively miniscule payments or throw us a few schlorships. Big deal! Meanwhile they enlarge their campus (Fay) or housing (St Marks). I’m sure John Butler or Al Hamilton can provide statistics on how the two schools affect our taxes. I am proud to have these two premere schools in ou town. I just wish they would contribute more to the town. They can increase tuition and still attract students. We can’t keep raising taxes.

83 carrie alpert March 9, 2011 at 8:01 PM

exactly. we cannot keep raising taxes and i do understand that raising taxes is an incredible burden for a large body of the town–i have also done my own research and increasing class size diminishes learning. what i am incredibly puzzled by and this puzzlement leads to anger is that Fay has been allowed to get away with what it has been allowed to get away with–that is really the crux of where i am coming from this year, my ax to grind so to speak. Call it what you will but they have the power (laws they hide behind while they build at breakneck speed and use our services at our taxpayers expense) and they know it–if you are not outraged then you are not paying close enough attention.

84 John Boiardi March 9, 2011 at 7:16 AM

It is interesting to follow the rehtoric on the blog. We keep beating on the levei of funding for public safety and other small budbets while ignoring the elephant in the room. The BofS only controls roughly 30+% of the budget. The Advisory committee can only recommend to town meeting members. We examine,line by line the budgets within the 30%. Has anyone, asside from those directly affected or involved, looked at their budget line by line ( the 70% budget)? Has anyone ever asked me whether I would want a new electronic whiteboard or a new smoke vision detector for the FD? I hope that fhe elected SB takes a serious look at the 70% they control and assist in keeping taxes down.

85 Neil Rossen March 9, 2011 at 1:40 PM

I continue to believe that contributors should sign their real name. Why do they need an alias? We are not in WI (and elsewhere in the country) where the unions wax violent – or at least I hope we aren’t. The rhetoric may be calmer and more reasoned if contributors signed their names.

86 Not a union member March 9, 2011 at 9:26 PM

Neil,

How mamny of the posts on this issue do you think were written by members of the fire fighters union? Read the level of detail in the posts. This blog is open to everyone including town residents, town employees, visitors and even me.

And I am using a pseudonym becuase I do not want to be harrassed by the firefighters.

87 John Kendall March 9, 2011 at 10:19 PM

Being a retired Southborough firefighter, I can assure you that nobody on the fire department would ever harrass you for exercising your right to free speech.

88 John Boiardi March 9, 2011 at 2:16 PM

The School Committee meets tonight March 9;

Some statistics to consider regarding budget cuts, not “no increase”, not ” level service”, not point something increase but actual cuts. Satistics for (K-8) 2008-2009
Enrollment 1200 (approx) Student Teacher Ratio 13.8 t0 1
Woodward 308 Number of teachers 112.6
Neary 360 Avg Salary $68,802 State Avg $67,577
Finn 325 School year 180 day
Trottier 499 How long is an actual class? How are the 6 hours divided up? Each scool has approx 25 teachers except Trittier with 40
School day 6 hours 15 minutes plus 30 min lunch The day includes teaching periods,Planning periods, and Administrative periods. I don’t know how the day is split up. How many actual teaching periods are they? What do teachers do during Administrative periods? (correct papers!!!! the ones they say they take home). I’m sure the administration has more up to date numbers since they said tey would lay off 9 with last years budget (actuall is 6 per Dr G)
The point of these statistics is that the Teachers contract states that the student teachers ratio should be 25 or less. 13.8 is certainly less. Consider that wages drive the budget can’t we srtive for 25? Wouldn’t the teachers be willing to scarifice a few planning periods or administrative periods without sacrificing actual classroom time? Let’s see whict our School committe sides with or compromises with, the taxpayers (that elect them) or the school administration.

89 Bill March 9, 2011 at 5:42 PM

John, are you suggesting teachers punch a time card whenever the students walk out of the room? If the class is at gym or music with another teacher are you insinuating that the teacher not be paid?
Now let me ask you this: what other job does not allow you access to the restroom whenever you please, gives you a lunch time that several times a month is split in half so you can attend to your cafeteria duty or recess duty, and inwhich you deal with not only children but their parents, and then are lucky enough to get to read how your job is really just kid sitting and how dare you make an average salary? Does the average job require a minimum of a Masters Degree and require that you attend classes in the evening or during your ‘break’? Come on everyone, a little respect for the people who are teaching our children.

90 Al Hamilton March 9, 2011 at 8:03 PM

Bill
Yes, a good teacher works hard but lets not get sanctimonious about it. Most of the folks who work in the private sector work very hard too in order to make the money to pay their taxes that are the source of the teachers wages and benefits. Most of those folks who are the source of tax revenue have not seen raises and or have had their benefits slashed over the last decade.

As for the master degree I am afraid I am not impressed. Recent research from the Gates foundations suggests that the benefit of these degrees is questionable at best. What is really is is a proxy for competence because of the resistance of the profession to performance standards.

91 Bill March 10, 2011 at 7:28 AM

O dear. I wish we all knew masters degrees were unnecessary. Imagine the millions of dollars that could have been saved. Or are they unnecessary only for teachers?

92 Al Hamilton March 10, 2011 at 9:21 AM

They are necessary because they are required not because there is hard evidence that they produce more effective teachers. That was my point.

93 jojama March 10, 2011 at 9:28 AM

Thank You Bill and Carrie!! Let us not attack and question the teachers John! It seems you have not been in a school recently.

94 Pat Q March 10, 2011 at 8:23 AM

I have re-posted what I posted earlier in this thread although it pertains now to the 13.8 to 1 ratio quoted above:

I think you have to be careful with the 14/4 (13.8 to 1) ratio you note above. There is a differece between class size and student/teacher ratio. In most venues student/ teacher ratios are calculated as the number of students in a district compared to the number of “teaching professionals”. In other words, the principal, guidance counselors, physical education, art and music teachers are all traditionally counted as teachers when you calculate this ratio even though they may not be in the classroom at a given moment.

It is more accurate to consider class size for the teachers rather than student/teacher ratios when arguing certain points.

95 Kathleen Harragan Polutchko March 10, 2011 at 9:22 AM

Mr. Boiardi,
Your data about the teacher’s contract is wrong. The teacher’s contract and the Southborough Schools Policy Manual state that the class size ratios to be adhered to when feasible are:
K-2: 16 -18
3 -5: 18 -20
6-8: 16 -18

Kathleen Harragan Polutchko
Southborough School Committee

96 John Boiardi March 10, 2011 at 6:26 PM

Kathleen,

I went into the contract and you are correct on the class sizes. I will go back and see if I was quoting an out dated contract..

John

97 Earl E. Byrd March 10, 2011 at 8:00 PM

Kathleen,
Thank you for the correction.

Would you or someone else be able to provide the class sizes for FY2011 with the smallest, largest, and average class size for each of the grade classifications you noted?

Alternatively, would post where this, and other census data is available?

thank you!

98 Kathleen Harragan Polutchko March 18, 2011 at 10:44 AM

The current class sizes as compared to the policy are:
K-2: 17.00 – 20.00 (vs. policy guideline of 16 – 18)
3-5: 19.50 – 23.75 (vs. policy guideline of 18 – 20)
6-8: 21.13 – 22.43 (vs. policy guideline of 16 – 18)

Enrollments and class sizes are discussed at each and every school committee meeting. They are held the second Wednesday of every month from September – June at 6:30 pm at the Trottier Middle School library.

99 Mark March 18, 2011 at 11:33 AM

Thanks Kathleen. This data is much appreciated!

100 Earl E. Byrd March 18, 2011 at 2:44 PM

For kindergarden (2011) per the Finn info night on Wednesday:

5 full day classes with 21 kids in each, and
1 half day class with 18 kids.

101 John Boiardi March 9, 2011 at 2:19 PM

My statics post crunched up the columns The school enrollments etc awere separated in my post as were tey seperate comments.

102 John Boiardi March 9, 2011 at 2:22 PM

My spelling w/o spell check is awful!! I will endeavor to proof read more.

103 carrie alpert March 9, 2011 at 7:54 PM

when was the last time any of you were even at Woodward or Neary on a given day volunteering? honestly. because if you were–i would have seen you!!! and you would have seen how the teachers switch off “are you in lunch today? no, i was there yesterday i think so and so is there today i have a meeting with so and so right now and i am going to eat while i walk to it” and if the kids are at recess (that is 15 min. don’t get too worked up that the teachers are suddenly making microwave popcorn and running through the hallways like it is an episode from Glee) that they are actually setting up for the next activity or perhaps answering one of the numerous emails that comes in from a parent.

or i mean, are they allowed to have a break for 5 minutes?

i mean get with the program. you can get worked up about the budget and taxing but do not, do not, do not start attacking the teachers and what they do with their time. they are busy TEACHING or trying to teach around the gazillion standardized requirements that the State mandates. really give it some thought: your child’s teacher spends 6 hours a day with them in the younger grades, show a little kindness and some well deserved respect to the adults who are teaching our kids.

104 Neil Rossen March 10, 2011 at 11:08 AM

The class size ratios as per the “Policy manual” are simply no longer feasible. The manual clearly allows f r that. There is no money!! Do you simply want to turn people upside down to extract more taxes. Even if an outrageous proposal gets through, there will be consequences as it may just energize the silent folks who usually just pay up.

105 John Kendall March 10, 2011 at 11:56 AM

Did any of you happen to notice that no matter what the thread subject is (in this case, the Fire Chief speaks of Russian Roullette), the coversation always ends up about the schools? Just wondering…….

106 Just wondering…… March 10, 2011 at 12:19 PM

I imagine that the teachers aren’t sitting at their computers writing comments to the blog all day long as it appears many in the private sector seem to be doing here. I wonder if in calculating the comparisons of annual days worked by teachers to what the posters say they work, have the posters reduced their time by the hours spent on this blog? For some I think it would add up to quite a few weeks worth. I mean really – where do you get the time if you’re working?
I am not a firefighter, teacher, town employee or union member, nor is anyone in my family, but I value the work they perform and the value they contribute to our community. There are many reasons to post anonymously

107 Neil Rossen March 10, 2011 at 1:55 PM

Wonder why it ends up with the schools? Well it’s where the money is and where the least sacrifice seems to occur and where the unions are the strongest and least tractable. What is going on in WI will happen here in time. There is , I believe, a new wave.in the country at large.

Then “Just wondering” why people have time to be on their computers. Well they may be retired, they may be on fixed income, they may be concerned about unjustifiable taxes that hit their pocket. Union members seem to have the time to get involved in street demonstations (not accusing ours). We find the time too.

108 Frank Crowell March 10, 2011 at 2:44 PM

Random Thoughts on Budgets and Blogs

Yes, I can do my private sector job and blog during the day. I am held accountable for my work and results.

This town is way too dedicated to having a very good school system to pay the teachers poorly. So why do they need a union?

Well if John Butler’s projections come to pass, there goes that raise I just got (first one in two years).

Why does it always come down to the school budget? Could it be because it is nearly 70% of the budget

I do not think that anyone is looking to balance the budget by asking Fay and St Mark’s to contribute higher PILOT. This issue has finally got the attention it deserves after years of being ignored. By the way, why can we not charge them fees? Politicians have been telling us for years that fees are not taxes. Time to put that to the test.

For all of those contributing under an assumed name or some other handle, good for you. You are continuing a long American tradition started by at lest one of our Founding Fathers and I continue that tradition as well.

For those of you who think the events in Wisconsin cannot happen here, do not kid yourselves. If this town or state played hardball as is going now in other places, there would be the same outcome. Take aways are always difficult.

Whether I agree with the BOS, Advisory, BOE or not, one thing cannot be taken away: Their very hard and dedicated work. They happen to be serving at a very difficult time. We should all recognize that, but keep those comments coming.

We only do bottom up budgeting! If for no other reason, then this is the reason we need a new town government (town manager).

I have “taken a knife” to my comments above so that no one would play “Russian Roulette” with what I said. I only wish I could have worked in the word purge somewhere – that would have been perfect.

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