Selectmen to reconsider budget options and what is critical to handle at spring Town Meeting

by beth on April 24, 2020

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Prior to Annual Town Meeting, the Board of Selectmen plan to take another look at potential cuts to next year’s budget.

This week, Treasurer Brian Ballantine presented selectmen with an updated look at Fiscal Year 2021 based on reduced revenue projections. Even after cutting a part time position he had requested for his own department, Ballantine had to up his projections for next year’s tax increase .

The budget presented this week would require a 3.43% property tax increase. That is estimated as a $363 increase per average household.

It’s worth noting that a 1.25% increase is based on assumptions about Capital projects not on the upcoming Annual Town Meeting Warrant.

Those expenses had already been targeted for a Special Town Meeting in the fall. Selectwoman Lisa Braccio pointed out that the Capital funding requests could change based on work being undertaken by the new Capital Planning Committee.

Tuesday night, Selectmen asked the Finance team to come back with versions of the Operating Budget that would lower or eliminate the tax increase.

This time, they’ll look at scenarios that allow level funding (no increase), a 2% increase, or just adjustments necessary to stay within the Town’s levy capacity for 5 years. (As I shared last week, the new 5 year outlook showed negative balances projected for FY24 and FY26.)

The board indicated that the point of the exercise is to understand what services would need to be sacrificed to reduce the burden on taxpayers. Vice Chair Marty Healey asked for the look at a zero-increase budget but followed that he doubted he would support a budget that heavily slashed. Still, he left room for the possibility based on what he hears from voters.

Selectman Dan Kolenda agreed that the information is valuable to be prepared to answer voter questions. But he advised against giving voters multiple budgets to choose from. Kolenda noted that a small percent of voters show up to ATM, and it will likely be even smaller this year. He warned that providing an option to choose a slashed budget could be “incredibly reckless” for the Town as a whole.

Braccio accepted Kolenda’s point but asked that an initially suggested look at an only 2.5% increase be lowered to 2%.

Advisory Committee Chair Kathy Cook joined the discussion. She noted that Advisory would be in favor of seeing the different scenarios. She opined that what happens when the postponed tax bills come due on June 1st may give an insight on how many residents are having trouble.

Cook clarified the differences her committee previously had with the Finance Team’s budget. She stated that there had been three, but Ballantine’s elimination of the new part-time position in Finance took care of one. 

Another disagreement was Economic Development Committee’s requested budget increase. (It’s worth noting that EDC’s Coordinator explained to selectmen on March 10th that there was miscommunication at a prior Advisory Committee meeting about the intended use of requested funds. That explanation took place while Advisory was meeting in another location that evening. Advisory hasn’t met again since.)

The final area was the part time hours increase requested by Southborough Youth and Family Services. The Chair indicated that there were varying positions on Advisory, but SYFS’ request would likely be supported by a split vote.

Looking forward, Cook mentioned that the public schools make up a big portion of the budget. She didn’t know if the school committees had a chance to look at what impacts there may be to next year’s budgets.

A deadline wasn’t set for Ballantine to present new data to selectmen, but it needs to be prior to Annual Town Meeting. That is currently scheduled for May 16th. As of Tuesday night, the board hadn’t heard from the Town Moderator confirmation that the meeting will be postponed again.

The next Board of Selectmen meeting is expected to be May 5th. Moderator Paul Cimino is invited to attend, to discuss a possible new ATM date. 

Also on that agenda, selectmen plan to discuss with Cimino which Articles they’ll recommend voters postpone to fall. The board agreed this week to come up with a list to recommend, but didn’t yet vote on which Articles will be on it.

All did agree that anything that wasn’t urgent should be pushed off. Chair Brian Shea quipped, “When in doubt, take it out.”

Updated (4/30/20 9:33 am): Fixed typo in the date for their next planned meeting. The targeted date was May 5th (a Tuesday as usual).

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 arborist April 24, 2020 at 9:03 AM

in these times of uncertain, with the covid pandemic in place, there should be a bare bone budget going forward, no tax increase please!

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2 M April 25, 2020 at 4:11 PM

Mr. Kolenda has it backwards. It would be incredibly reckless for us to do anything but slash the budget.
Do not expect the income of last year. All departments should consider what effects the shut down has had on their operations this year and build a new budget that takes into account a possible new shutdown in November thru March (flu season). IF first responders and the Health department need increases for gear or testing, then they too should provide new budgets with increases for that exception.
I can’t believe we are trying to present the same budget as other years, at a Town Meeting that would be unsafe to attend. All of this is absurd.

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3 Board of Spending April 28, 2020 at 8:38 AM

How about a temporary moratorium on spending? And an interim emergency budget?

The pandemic is raging and all non essential businesses have been closed and will remain closed for the foreseeable future. If you are a business owner or employee of a closed business, where exactly is the incoming income to pay any bills, never mind a tax bill? There are ten pages of obituaries in Sunday’s Globe and Mayor Walsh has announced that Boston and Boston businesses are not opening on May 4th. BOS’s Marty Healey states that he can’t support a slashed budget? There is zero business insight in that statement and anyone holding that view does not belong on BOS or in any financial decision making capacity. Both he and Mr. Kolenda’s remarks are exactly backwards. Agree with “M” above that it would be absurd and reckless to present the same pre-pandemic budget. While this BOS is diddling around with a level to some percentage increase, there has been a cataclysmic paradigm shift in the world as we know it. Like any business, without knowledge of receivables or low probability of same receivables, how can there be ANY spending? This BOS needs to listen to “M”’s very good insights and suggestions above and consider the impacts of a possible second wave on business, the economy, and receivables.

The town needs a new emergency budget immediately. How about a temporary moratorium on everything until we figure out where income, receivables, and the next six months are going. This is essential cash flow planning.

Except for vital items, there should be no little to no spending for now and a temporary emergency budget or else this local government could face insolvency like any business. For those with no business sense on this board, step aside and make room for new talent, for those who understand business cycles and budgeting. Voters remember this at town election time, now and in the future. Agree with “M” above and cannot believe the plow ahead with essentially the same budget and a meeting when it is unsafe to call a meeting

All must stay safe and well — town meeting is for all town residents when it is safe to do so.

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4 beth April 28, 2020 at 9:39 AM

I didn’t report that Healey said “he can’t support a slashed budget”. (In fact, as I noted, he is the one who asked to see what a zero-increase budget would look like.) Both you and “M” have leapt to deciding that Healey and/or Kolenda will recommend a budget you disapprove of. The entire board supported seeing what cuts would mean in terms of services/resources sacrificed. No one argued that they want to keep the budget as is without considering reductions.

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5 Board of Spending April 28, 2020 at 10:11 AM

Sorry Beth, reread your article above which states that while Marty Healey suggests a look-see at a level budget, he “doubts he would support a budget that heavily slashed.”

No one is leaping to any conclusions. The statement speaks for itself.

The entire BOS would do well to consider an interim emergency budget until it gets a handle on receivables and future cash flows. From the article above, the reader does not see any insights along those lines except a brief statement (and not even directive) from an Advisory member.

The point is this: there has been a cataclysmic paradigm shift in the world as we know it. Many businesses are not open and generating income. On the local government level, there must be responsible cash flow planning and budgeting. Diddling around with a zero to some percentage increase on a pre-pandemic budget is unrealistic and reflects poor to no insight on business challenges, cycles, and cash flow planning. Like any business the risk is insolvency. The voters get it.

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6 beth April 28, 2020 at 10:21 AM

I know what I wrote and what I heard in the call. You stated that he “can’t support a slashed budget”, not that he doubted that he could or that he may be influenced by what voters have to say.

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7 Board of Spending April 28, 2020 at 10:34 AM

The statement by Mr. Healey is self evident and needs no interpretation. See paragraph 8 in the article above: “. . . Healey. . . asked for a zero-increase budget, but followed that he doubted he would support a budget that heavily slashed. . .” There it is. Not difficult to understand.

In light of likely diminished cash flows and receivables, this view lacks common sense, basic business sense, and is unrealistic in my opinion. In a word, and to borrow “M”s word, absurd.

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8 Will April 28, 2020 at 4:38 PM

While we all are doing what we can during this pandemic, we can’t be short sighted in regards to a) those people who are employed by the town b) issues that need to be repaired or taken care of immediately or in the near term or c) continuing plans or planning for long term issues.

I’ll say it, since most of the comments here say the opposite, but I don’t believe ‘slashing’ or ‘cutting’ from the budget is really going to help us achieve any of the things above, and that means potentially people out of jobs, capital repairs or infrastructure issues getting worse and a lack of planning for the long term resulting in potentially poor decisions later or rushed ones that lack foresight.

You’re all getting riled up over a possibility. As Beth has pointed out, nothing is written in stone right now, they’ve asked for more information and will make their decisions and judgments when they have the projections and facts. Just as things with the pandemic have changed over time (in terms of protocols and recommendations), who’s to say they won’t decide for a level budget for next year.

Cuts, actual cuts or slashing of the budget, in a town this small, with as small a tax base as it has, will not help it prosper in the long run. Yes, things are tough, and yes , we need to make adjustments, but we need to think holistically and long term when thinking about these issues and the budgets, as at some point, the bill comes due, and if you push it off, it’s only going to delay the inevitable.

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9 Board of Spending April 28, 2020 at 10:44 PM

“Will,” if businesses are closed and there is a disruption in cash flows and income to pay taxes and therefore income to the town—what happens then? You can’t spend more than you take in. That would be nonsensical, and would lead to insolvency sooner rather than later. Although you seem to be suggesting that should happen.

Businesses are making these necessary and dire adjustments in real time right now, laying off people, or else consequently having to go out of business. What makes you think local government is any different? It’s the same as a household: you can’t spend more than you take in and you better have or build a rainy day reserve fund if you don’t have one.

The fact of the matter is that impacts are unknown at this point. The town needs a bare bones interim budget and a temporary hiatus on spending. Temporary, “Will.” Temporary, until the town can get a handle on receivables and cash flows. Nothing is going to fall apart over say, three to six months until impacts can be understood. Every business is cutting back and adjusting to the new current reality. Local governments have to adjust too. And as one comment adroitly observes: “it’s our money. . .”

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10 Kelly Roney April 29, 2020 at 11:56 AM

It’s hilarious to me that someone who uses a pseudonym is trying to make an issue of someone else’s name!

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11 Board of Spending April 29, 2020 at 1:51 PM

First, there is nothing wrong with using a pen name. Most bloggers on this blog use a pen name. Many do this is to keep the focus on the substance of the message. It’s that simple. Also, please note that there is no “issue” or “trying to make an issue” of anyone using a pen name. You have grossly misunderstood and it is an odd snarky misinterpretation as “hilarious.” Is this due to the use of quotes perhaps? Regardless, there is nothing wrong with distinguishing a pen name in quotes (to distinguish from a regular word versus name) and there is no meaning to attribute to same. No one pokes mean snarky fun at you for using your name. Other bloggers who use pen names would appreciate same. Thanks.

12 Kelly Roney May 3, 2020 at 2:34 PM

No one pokes mean snarky fun at you for using your name.

More hilarity! Poking fun at someone for using their own name? Are we in fourth grade? Kelly’s a girl’s name! Hilarious.

13 when? April 28, 2020 at 12:59 PM

From the comment provided above and Marty Healy’s comment: “that he may be influenced by what voters have to say”.

How will voters be able to contact him (Healy) in order to register their concerns? The BOS will approve/recommend a budget *before* the Town Meeting. Voters get to have their say then (ATM), although it’s a bit late.

Since the BOS has started using Zoom and public comment is effectively nonexistent, just how do voters influence Marty Healy, and the rest of the Southborough BOS while BOS budget discussions are taking place?

There needs to be a mechanism for public comment while the budget is under consideration and before it is “locked down”. It’s *our money*.

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14 beth April 28, 2020 at 2:19 PM

The BOS meetings do allow public comment these days. The Board of Selectmen also have an email address to contact them. And, while you are right about the selectmen making recommendations on budgets to bring to Town Meeting, voters (or selectmen) can make a motion to lower specific budgets at Town Meeting.

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15 Michael Weishan April 30, 2020 at 12:04 AM

Beth, I’d strongly suggest that is it time to require people to use their real names and a verified email address on my southborough. This is the current practice for most major news outlets these days, and many folks rely on you for the real news in town. Given the current state of disinformation on the internet, these anonymous postings just amplify distrust and allow people to do kamikaze attacks on individuals and positions, and frankly, waste a lot of readers’ time. Are these people even real residents? Who knows… but we should know.

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16 Board of Spending April 30, 2020 at 2:28 PM

Michael, this is a blog. Not a major news outlet. Many citizens agree that this is a good blog and valuable forum for discussion. You are entitled to your own opinions. All other bloggers are entitled to their opinions as well. It’s called a democracy. If the views here do not match your own, in a free democracy, you can express some perspectives of your own. Frankly, from this reader’s viewpoint, agree or disagree, the postings here are pretty good observations and opinions. If you do not agree with an opinion, state your own. However, there’s often genuine concern over taking out a weird bully stick for names as seen on blogs from time to time. This town owes Beth a world of gratitude for a valuable forum for discussion. If this blog is a waste of time for you, you have other options. Thank you.

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