At town meeting next Monday, the Advisory Committee will present a set of budgets to voters. So will the Board of Selectmen. Both sets call for a tax increase somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 percent. But turns out those won’t be the only options available to voters. In an unusual move, there will also be a third set of budgets presented — a set that calls for no tax increase.
A majority of the Advisory Committee voted last week to back away from their original plan of presenting a no-tax-increase budget, and instead only present a set that calls for a 1.9 percent tax increase. Committee member John Butler argued against the decision, saying it’s important for voters to have the option of not raising taxes.
So he decided to invoke a town bylaw that allows minority reports of the Advisory Committee to be delivered at Town Meeting. In that minority report he said he will present a no-tax-increase budget.
“If citizens want to rally to come to Town Meeting to vote for no tax increase, they are motivated to do so, knowing that the option will be there,” Butler wrote in a comment on this blog.
Butler said the important thing is for voters to have a choice. “Frankly, if only a few of the anonymous posters to this site (see here and here) who have testified about their personal struggles in these difficult economic times vote in favor this, or believe that someone cares, I will feel that this effort is worthwhile.” [Ed note: Links added]
The majority-approved Advisory Committee budget would mean approximately $160 in additional taxes for the average family next year. The budget proposed by the Board of Selectmen would mean a 2.3 percent tax increase, which translates to $180 for the average family.
The no-tax-increase budget will be handed out at Town Meeting on Monday, but you can get an advance copy on the Southborough Advisory Committee website.
Mr. Butler, Good job last night in making your view and recommendation known at the BOS meeting and pre town meeting. I think it fabulous there is an option for those with some backbone to vote no increase of taxes and to stop the stupidity in spending that has been rabid in this town now for the 18 years I have been here. Today is the next step when we actually see the School Committees and Mr. Gobron superintendent of schools budget released and what they have negotiated (joke) not so much with the teachers but with the teachers UNIONS. Can we and will we stand up to the UNIONS? I will and hope others will join me in passing that message to the School Committee and Mr. Gobron. 80% of our budget is in the schools in our town.
The Advisory committee originally discussed presenting two budgets; a 2% tax increase and a zero tax increase budget. It was never an either or proposal. What we did back away from was presenting two proposals. Speaking for myself, I voted against presenting a zero tax increase budget only because I felt the affect on the town departments would be too drastic. Mr Butler drew up a no tax increase budget to hand out at town meeting as a minority position which he has a perfect right to do even though the vote of the committee was 7 to 1 against.
I should explain that my main motivation in providing a set of budgets that would create no tax increase is to be sure that those voters who don’t want a tax increase have the information they need to vote for the budget “candidate” of their choice. I don’t care if I am acting on behalf of a small minority at Town Meeting. I have always felt as though Town Meeting has been too much of a “one candidate plus write in” where the one candidate is the one supported by the head table. For something as complicated as the Town budget, creating an alternative from your seat in the audience is just too difficult, which makes it democracy in name only.
Rhetorically I cannot join either of the two contending camps. If you want to vote for the higher set of budgets, such as that proposed by Advisory and/or the K8 School Committee, I do not think you are voting for “fat” or “wasteful spending”. Rather I think that our teachers and employees will deliver value for your extra dollar. On the other hand if you want to keep your extra $152 (average house), I don’t think that you will “damage our schools”, play “Russian roulette” with public safety, or be irresponsible in the least bit. You will hear all those things, but they aren’t true. We are talking about 2% here, so ignore all the rhetoric, and vote whatever way you want.
Voters at town meeting will have an opportunity to decide if they want to support a No Tax Increase budget. As Mr. Butler has so well described, the earth will not stop turning on its axis if we vote for the no tax increase budget.
The No Tax Increase Budgets still provide our Government with about $1.3 million in additional resources. Overall the No Tax Increase Budget is up over 3%
As we debate various line items you will hear great cries about how this is a massive cut on a budget already cut to the bone. These statements are not in line with the facts. The fact is that there are very few cuts in the No Tax Increase Budgets. The vast majority of the budgets will be increased over their current level that is an increase not a cut. We should insist that town officials call these actions a reduction in the rate of increase not a cut.
All or nearly all of the additional monies provided in either budget will be consumed increases in labor costs (raises and benefits) we will not be getting additional services for our additional money. In all likelyhood we will be getting less. So the choice is pay more and get less or pay the same and get less.
Finally there is quite a bit of waste and inefficient or obsolete business practice that happens in our local govt. All organizations, public and private, resist change until outside pressure force them to adapt. This is a fact of life. Town Meeting needs to begin to apply pressure for change and the way Town Meeting applies pressure is through the budget. If we keep on supporting the same old budgets we will keep on getting the same old results.
This year we have a real choice change or the status quo. I know which one I will vote for.
I would be interested in seeing specifics on the waste which is occuring in Southborough, how long it has been present and what efforts have already been taken to address it.
I have posted a list on this blog several times of examples of waste and inefficiency. I will try to dig it up and post it again but let me give you an example of institutional resistance to change.
About 15 years ago during a routine audit the Auditor identified the following wasteful practice:
By law, all checks issued by the town must come from the town accountant. This includes all checks for school operations. Our K-8 schools use a different accounting system than the Town. The school processes Purchase Orders and received Invoices and entered them into their accounting system. Paper copies of the PO’s and Invoices were then sent to the Town Accountant to be reentered by hand into the town accounting system. There are a lot of these. The Auditor observed in about 1995 that this double entry of data was wasteful and inefficient. Nothing happened.
In the early 2000’s the Town got a new accounting system (still incompatible with the schools) and this item was brought up as important to address. In specific a simple electronic interchange (eg a csv file if nothing better was available) to eliminate this inefficient and wasteful practice. Nothing happened.
Year after year this item was brought to the relevant managers managers attention by the Advisory Committee which grew increasingly frustrated to the point of threatening to cut budgets if this was not done. Nothing Happened.
Finally after nearly 10 years of hectoring and cajoling by Advisory a few thousand dollars was spent to create the facility for a simple file exchange between the 2 systems. This permitted the town accountant to save nearly 2 days per month in data entry.
This simple productivity improvement, which any mid level manager in the private sector would be expected to do with little fanfare, took over 10 years to implement and was only implemented because the Advisory committee was so appalled at the waste that budgets were threatened.
The answer to your question is that many of these practices have been around for a long time, a very long time and little if anything is being done to address them because there is no pressure to change.
Here is the list I published, it is far from exhaustive and I have other examples. This list was developed with “things that could save money” rather than waste and inefficiency but the two are intertwined:
Let’s face it, it is budget crunch time and if we keep on doing the same old things the same old way we will be laying off teachers, firefighters and police officers. However, there are a multitude of opportunities to change the way we do business and free up substantial monies that can be used to protect these vital services. Change is difficult and it will take some courage but the savings opportunities are real. Here is a list of 16 things that can save teachers, police officers and firefighters jobs.
1. A serious independent review of whether we can operate in a 3 school environment. This can free up several hundred thousand dollars in operating costs and permit us to sell of a number of old buildings raising several million dollars in one time funds
2. Freeze Salaries – Potential savings next year $800,000
3. Adopt Chapter 18 requiring retirees to sign up for Medicaid and have the town pay for a supplemental policy – Potential savings $150,000 per year starting in a year.
4. Make the Transfer Station into an Enterprise Fund – Let those who use the facility pay the full costs of operations (they do not now). No reason for those that choose a private hauler to subsidize those that use the transfer station through their taxes – Potential savings $50,000 to $100,000
5. Keep Police Cruisers and other vehicles for a min of 120,000 miles. Other communities do this. It is cheaper to repair a vehicle at these ages than replace with new. Potential savings $10-20k per year
6. Operate smaller more fuel efficient crusiers. The current fleet is getting worse with the addition of gas guzzling SUV’s. We use 25,000 gallons of gas per year in our crusiers.
7. Consolidate counter operations in town hall. There is no reason why a customer cant get a transfer sticker, dog license, register to vote, file for an abutters list or get a building permit from a single service counter. This is an opportunity to reduce costs and improve service.
8. Close and sell Fayville Hall
9. End the CPA after the Chestnut Hill bond is paid off use the 1% tax authority (requires a vote by the citizens) for teachers, police officers and fire fighters – $250,000.
10. Charge Market rates for the Superintendent’s office
11. Charge Market rates for all after school programs
12. End subsidies for after school programs
13. Consolidate Cemetery Operations in the DPW
14. Regionalize dispatch operations
15. Do a full, independent, cost benefit analysis on privatizing Ambulance Services
16. Insist on mutual aide equity. Other communities need to provide us as much services as we provide them or pay.
This is my list. Others have theirs. If we took the hard decisions to adopt these reforms we would readily have enough money to preserve our teachers, police officers, DPW workers and fire fighters. If you are worried about teacher’s jobs you need to be talking to your elected leaders about these reforms.
Al, as much as I agree with you on the fact that there is a tremendous inequity with mutual aid, it is what it is. Mutual aid is a request from other towns, cities, or regions who have exhausted their available public safety resources during an emergency. You need to get over that stumbling block and go after the more costly things we pay for that really need to be examined under a microscope. And I don’t think mutual aid is as costly as you think it is.
I am not opposed to mutual aid, quite the opposite, I fully agree that it is an important part of our public safety infrastructure and it helps us maintain a cost effective set of fire services.
However, there needs to be fairness. One year we might need more services than we give, another we might give more than we get. That has not been the case. We appear, to provide 2 or 3 times as much service as we get year after year after year. This means in effect that Southborough Tax Payers are subsidizing fire protection for other communities.
To be honest, I do not know what can be done but I think that this situation should rise to the level where there is an action plan to understand why this is happening and then develop options for addressing the problem if the problem turns out to be significant.
Al, This last post with your recommendations is phenomenal. I agree with every one of them. Next would be the teachers unions. Thanks so much.
For all that we may agree to disagree about in general, I find that I am in agreement with many of your points. Good list, thanks