Budget news: Town rebuilding budgets in hopes of avoiding tax hike and district fighting state cut (Updated)

by beth on December 18, 2014

Southborough Wicked Local reported on two stories that effect Southborough tax payers this week.

On Tuesday, selectmen got a preview of the Town budget for the next fiscal year. As it currently stands, the $4.81 million budget would result in a 5.4% property tax increase.

That’s something selectmen are seeking to avoid. SWL reports:

“officials say the budget is likely to undergo changes in the coming weeks.

Local aid is still unsettled, especially with a new governor due to be sworn in next month, said Finance Director Brian Ballantine.

He said local aid accounts for 6.2 percent of total revenues, so any increase or decrease by the state could result in the projected tax increase moving up or down. Post-retiree health insurance remains a significant part of the budget, he said, signaling a need to make management of health costs a priority.

“I would like to see a level-service funded budget,” said board member Bonnie Phaneuf . . .

“I don’t want our public safety departments to come up with a level-[dollar]* budget, when we know that there are already deficits,” said Selectman John Rooney.

He said he would not be in favor of the projected tax increase and would not support it at Town Meeting.

Purple said rather than drafting level-service budgets, he prefers a system where the budget is deconstructed to zero and then built back up again. (read more)

In other fiscal news, the Regional School Committee is joining a fight against the state’s regional busing budget cuts.

What was seen as a budget boon earlier this fall was pulled back by Governor Deval Patrick last month.

At a past Regional School Committee meeting, members had lamented the low funding for busing. They noted that when the state was pushing for the district and other towns to establish their regional schools, they promised 100% transportation reimbursements.

Over time, the budgets had been cut significantly. The committee agreed on pushing for increased transportation funding as one of their legislative priorities.

In September, Superintendent Christine Johnson was pleased to share that the 2015 state budget included an increase in funding for regional transportation. The reimbursement would be for 90% of the expense. They were suddenly looking at an increase of about $200,000 in reimbursements.

According to SWL, Governor Patrick cut that increase back to the same level funding as the previous year. It was part of an effort to “close a projected $329 million budget gap for the current fiscal year”.

The Regional School Committee is now banding with other school districts in battling the cut. SWL reports:

Committee members voted Wednesday to chip in $500 toward a legal fund established by the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools to research the legality of Patrick’s mid-year budget cut. . .

The annual budget of the Northborough-Southborough Regional School Committee doesn’t rely on regional transportation funding, but having the money could provide a significant boost for the district in fiscal 2016, superintendent Christine M. Johnson said.

“This is a big deal for us,” said school committee member Paul Butka, who motioned to support the legal effort. While Northborough and Southborough aren’t facing a budget shortfall because of the governor’s decision, other regional school districts are counting on the money for the remainder of the school year, Butka said. Setting aside a few hundred dollars now to potentially reclaim tens of thousands of dollars for the district in the future is money “well-spent,” he said.

Patrick is also facing pressure from a host of lawmakers to reverse his decision. Seventeen senators and 63 state representatives signed a letter calling on the governor to restore the funding. (read more)

Updated (12/23/14 10:57 am): A commenter questioned accuracy of SWL quotes. I found that two were incaccurate.

I removed a quote on the school budget. Although Town Administrator Mark Purple was quoted as saying that we’re down a little in students which improves our numbers – he was referring specifically to the budget for Assabet. He didn’t clarify where we stand in the number of students or the budget for K-8 or Algonquin.

I changed the quote from John Rooney. He was quoted by SWL as saying “level-service” when in fact he said “level-dollar”.

1 Resident December 18, 2014 at 2:24 PM

A huge problem relying on the newspaper is its inaccuracy. If you attended or watched the BOS meeting, nothing reported in the Metrowest is correct. The school discussion is wrong, the quotes are wrong, the numbers are wrong. We need to be careful relying on misinformation.

The biggest public interest development at the BOS meeting related to the Burnett House and the special town meeting, something which neither the newspaper nor this site has mentioned. If people want correct information you need to be careful what your source is.

2 beth December 18, 2014 at 3:58 PM

I haven’t had a chance to watch the meetings yet myself. So I can’t speak to what is accurate or inaccurate in the SWL article at this point. (Also, I’m not sure which numbers you are reporting are wrong.)

But in case you misunderstood my post, I want to clarify. The section of my post on the state cut on school transportation funding budget wasn’t from the BOS meeting.

My background summary was partly from from older articles and from older meetings I watched. The quoted SWL story was from this week’s Regional School Committee meeting.

Let me know if you still believe the SWL coverage was inaccurate. I’ve been busy lately, and decided to leave the coverage of these meetings to SWL. But perhaps I need to carve out some time to watch them!

3 beth December 23, 2014 at 11:02 AM

I finally got a chance to look at the BOS meeting. I agree that one quote was incorrect, and another included a typo. I made the fixes. I still don’t see where the numbers are wrong.

However, I do agree that the fact that the BOS determined that (at this point) they don’t see a need for a Special Town Meeting on 84 Main Street is news. I am surprised that wasn’t mentioned in the article or publicized by the Town.

4 Gary D. December 19, 2014 at 5:33 AM

100% reimbursement for regional transportation was promised and now recanted. Hmm, back in the day, we were told that if we funded the building of the transfer station, (a pretty penny at the time), we would never have to pay for trash disposal again, so I guess this Karma thing is real after all. Ya just gotta love big city governing in a small town…

5 Frank Crowell December 19, 2014 at 9:57 AM

Another state program cut back on………..from the same governor who promised eight years ago to cut property taxes……….I am shocked. Not exactly shedding any tears that he is leaving – good riddance.

Where is our state senator and rep……………………time for another feel good press release from both of them. I am sure things are a little difficult for them now that they will have to vote on future gas tax increases.

6 Jo December 19, 2014 at 7:18 AM

Sounds as though we should be moving towards a 401k plan and health plans for retirees equal to private corporations. This is way past due and also paying out years of sick and vacation time to retirees should probably. Do you want to carry over 5 days like the rest of us great thank you?
There are plenty of younger workers that will be ecstatic to have these jobs without the excessive waste of taxpayer money.

7 Supports Jo December 19, 2014 at 9:16 AM

Jo, Best ideas yet. Lets get it done Southborough. Walker forced it to the school level in Wisconsin. Thanks for your insight. To parallel the discussion, add this to your thoughts: We have teachers of Math (not all are incompetent but many) at ARHS with flunking and struggling kids, huge amount of money wasted on tutors (1 in 4 students need a tutor to pass), and one math teacher yesterday allowed a feminists presentation and her/their agenda in classes instead of our kids being taught math. Does anyone else find this odd? Lets get real and stop wasting money, (move to 401k, self funded health care, non-union) get the unions out and the tenure that comes with it and pay the achievers even more than they are making now.

8 Al Hamilton December 19, 2014 at 10:09 AM

While I agree with the sentiment, the political reality is that this is not going to happen in Mass in the forseeable future. Walker had a legislature that supported him. There is not a snowballs chance in Hades of our legislature (which is very pro union) doing the same.

If you want to move to a defined contribution retirement system (like a 401k) then the first step is to change a lot of the faces in the legislature.

The irony is that for younger workers a defined contribution plan might well be better and lower risks. A defined contribution system is built on the assumption of continued economic health of our community.

9 Al Hamilton December 19, 2014 at 12:03 PM

Correction the last paragraph should say:

A defined benefit system is build on the assumption of continued economic health of our community over 10’s of years.

10 bob ackley December 22, 2014 at 8:54 AM

Al

A defined benefit plan places all of the risk on the town (employer) and none on the employee.

A 401k does just the opposite…and why the massive shift by employers to 401k’s

11 Al Hamilton December 22, 2014 at 10:43 AM

Bob

I do not believe that is true. Just ask the retirees in Detroit.

In a public sector Defined Benefit plan, particularly if they are under funded (like nearly all are) the employees ability to collect is heavily linked to the economic health of the entity paying into the pension fund. If the public entity gets into economic trouble then full pension pay out will be at risk. Cities and Towns can go bankrupt and when they do pensions and retirement benefits get cut.

By contrast, in a 401k, the monies paid into the fund belong to the employee. Bankruptcy has no impact on the funds owned by the employee.

My point is that if you are signing up for a Defined Benefit plan you are not taking a risk free deal. If you are a 20 year old new employee you are betting that the entity you are working for will remain economically healthy for 60-80 years into the future. That is real risk that should not be ignored. 60 years ago Detroit looked like a very safe investment. So did Central Falls, Boise, Harrisburg, Stockton and San Bernadino.

12 Parent of a middleschooler December 19, 2014 at 1:25 PM

Really? That’s concerning. I heard that the bright kids don’t get much attention there. I am really concerned indeed, not just about $, but about educational quality. Do we have a “College Confidential” type of site where you can talk and share about ARHS?

13 Kate December 19, 2014 at 8:04 PM

Not sure where you heard this, but it’s nonsense. Bright kids do just fine at ARHS, as I’m confident you’ll discover if you do a little research. In fact, I’m sure you could just give Tom Mead (Algonquin’s principal) a call – he’d likely be able to respond to any and all of your concerns.

14 Parent of a middleschooler December 22, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Kate-I heard from other parents, of course. Believe me, I am happy reading your comments:-) Sure I will do my research when my kids get there.

15 Kate December 22, 2014 at 9:49 PM

Sounds good. Just my two cents: my son entered college with plenty of credits under his belt and his science degree’s math requirements completely satisfied because of the AP scores he earned through classes offered at the high school, and my daughter, who has a learning disability, has made dean’s list every semester at her college.

16 Parent of a middleschooler December 23, 2014 at 10:05 AM

That’s awesome! Thank you Kate for sharing. Have a great holiday!

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