BOS votes on budget, but willing to work with Advisory on potential differences

by beth on May 20, 2020

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In a 3-2 split vote on Tuesday night, the Board of Selectmen voted to support a revised budget for FY21.

So far, the new budget calls for less than a 0.85% tax increase over this year’s budget.* Don’t get too excited. That may change after the Board hears from the Advisory Committee.

This Thursday, Advisory will have its own meeting to follow up on budget issues. During last night’s meeting, Advisory Chair Kathy Cook previewed that the committee would likely have issues with some of the recent budget changes. What those were and what the impact might be, she wasn’t ready to say much.

Prior to the budget vote, selectmen readdressed start dates for new hires for Southborough Youth & Family Services and Technology. Town Administrator Mark Purple repeated his ask to delay them to January first. Last week, he only succeeded on two of the four positions. This week, he succeeded on the remaining two.

In the prior discussion, Selectmen Dan Kolenda and Sam Stivers argued for the July start for the two jobs. Selectwoman Lisa Braccio Chair Brian Shea voted with them. This week, Braccio argued for taking a second look.

Braccio referenced Northborough and Framingham furloughing workers and that even Southborough schools were cutting some jobs. Looking again at the situation with Southborough employees, she argued that there are current staff who have the capacity to fill the administrative need for SYFS through the fall:

I don’t want to hire someone if in months we’re talking about letting people go. I hate the thought of potentially furloughing or maybe even letting go some of the employees we have now when they can be useful in other areas.

She reminded that an original argument for the full time position was the need for someone at the office desk when visitors entered. She pointed out that there is no telling when the office will be able to reopen. She also stated that SYFS is now able to make use of a new referral service.

Braccio emphasized this wasn’t about short term dollars and cents, it’s about sustainability. She was concerned about the many unknowns looking into next year. Delaying the start date gives them flexibility to eliminate jobs this fall before people are hired.

Shea agreed with Purple and Braccio. Healey had argued against the hires the previous week, but said he was giving up that fight. Instead, he supported the delay measure.

Kolenda reargued his position that its a public health need and Stivers agreed. When subsequently voting for the budget, Kolenda added as his caveat a public appeal to any Advisory members listening. He urged a closer look at the SYFS staffing need.

Later, Cook told the board that Advisory agreed with the delayed start decision. Echoing Braccio’s comments, Cook said that after speaking with Purple and Treasure Brian Ballantine, she was confident that the Town had employees who could at least temporarily fill the SYFS need.

Beyond the start dates, the budget was basically the same version the board had gone through in detail last Thursday

Healey and Stivers argued for hearing Advisory’s positions were before voting. Echoing a rebuttal by Kolenda, Shea urged taking a leadership position. The Chair followed that if Advisory has differences on the budget he’s ready, willing, and able to talk them through next week. Braccio voted with them in support.

Following that vote is when Cook “raised her hand” on zoom to briefly comment. She stressed that it’s not this year’s budget they were worried about but the next five years. She also noted that with uncertainty about the future economy, the board may want to look at adding more to the reserve fund.

5 yr levy capacity presented in BOS 5-19-20 meetingIn Purple’s presentation of the budget last night, he emphasized some tough numbers in the five year levy capacity outlook. (Click image right for the snapshot.) He noted that the revenues are just estimates. If they’re far off, it changes everything.

At Advisory’s meeting last Wednesday, members agreed that someone would follow up with each department on the budget reductions they made through the “2%” exercise. The committee wanted to ensure the cuts made sense. Concerns raised by members were avoiding pushing increases to future years and making sure that departments that are equipped to meet additional challenges/demands posed by the pandemic.

Advisory is set to reconvene (via zoom of course) this Thursday at 6:00 pm.

*The tax increase of 0.85% or $89 per average household was presented before Selectmen voted to postpone two staffing positions by six months. I don’t have the final figures based on those changes. Still, as I noted, until Advisory supports the budget or hashes out differences with selectmen, this shouldn’t be considered the final budget.

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