Town Meeting last night voted to approve the K-8 and regional school budgets at their full amounts, and defeated a motion that would have cut the library budget by 4%. On the flip side, voters decided to reduce the proposed police budget by an additional $50K.
Voters got through most of the operational budget items, but many articles — including capital requests for school technology — and questions around how to fund town budgets remain. Town meeting will continue tonight at 7:30 pm.
Strong support for the library
The library saw perhaps the most impassioned support from town meeting voters last night in response to a motion by the Board of Selectmen to cut their level-funded budget by $18K, a 4% decrease. Several residents were applauded after speaking in support of the library.
The reduction would have required the library to seek a special waiver from the state to maintain its certification, a scenario Advisory Committee member John Butler called “shameful.”
But former Advisory Committee member Al Hamilton said it’s a question of choices. “We’re cutting hours at the police station. We’re cutting hours at the fire station. We’re cutting hours at Town Hall,” he said. “Level funding the library is something we’d all like to do, but to do that we’d have to ask people who are struggling to pay higher taxes.”
When it came down to a vote, Town Meeting resoundingly defeated the motion to reduce the library budget, opting instead to keep its funding the same as last year.
School budgets pass at the eleventh hour … literally
Discussion of the school budgets didn’t come until nearly 11:00 pm, and by that time a number of voters had already left. But the requested K-8 budget passed with hardly any discussion — save one resident asking if Town Meeting could vote to increase the budget in the hopes of restoring the six teaching positions eliminated in the budget. (It can’t. The law says budgets cannot be significantly increased on the floor of town meeting.)
Overall there was more debate about the regional budget than the K-8 budget when the Selectmen made a motion to lower Southborough’s assessment by nearly $166K, an amount that reflects what the assessment would be if the regional agreement was used instead of the state formula adopted several years ago by the regional school committee.
The motion was largely symbolic. The issue of which assessment method to use — regional agreement or state formula — was taken up by Town Meeting last year, and voters decided to support the regional school committee’s use of the state formula even though it results in a higher assessment for Southborough.
Selectman Bill Boland said that while the board remains “adamant” that the regional agreement should be used to determine the assessment, he withdrew his motion to lower the regional budget, “in fairness of trying to get the budget approved for the students of Algonquin.”
Voters overwhelmingly approved the $17M budget. Southborough will be assessed about $5.7M of that amount.
Quinn Bill funding cut
Debate on the police department budget came down to whether or not to match state cuts in Quinn Bill funding. The Quinn Bill gives police officers bonuses for obtaining college degrees.
Historically, the state and town have split program costs 50-50, but this year the state reduced their funding for the program. Southborough police officers have a contract that says if the state cuts Quinn Bill funding, the town can also cut funding by a corresponding amount. It’s what happened this year, and the Advisory Committee argued it’s what voters should approve for next year. That would mean cutting the nearly $1.6M police department budget by about $50K.
Noting that teachers in the K-8 district had volunteered to take an $80K reduction in their contract to help out with the budget, Advisory Committee member John Butler said it was a question of fairness. ” I don’t want to ask for a concession from teachers for money we owe them and then pay police officers money we don’t owe them.”
The Board of Selectmen disagreed with Advisory’s motion to cut the budget saying the town is currently in labor negotiations with police officers for next year, and their special labor counsel recommended not cutting Quinn Bill funding. Boland said other towns in similar positions to Southborough are facing legal challenges over cuts to Quinn Bill funding.
Ultimately voters decided to cut the funding by a vote of 167 to 99.