Southborough voters showed they’re not opposed to spending, even in a down economy, as almost all operational budgets passed at Town Meeting last night without further reduction, despite several attempts to do so.
Notably, Town Meeting defeated motions by the Board of Selectman to decrease the $16.8M school budget by $570K, and by the Advisory Committee to decrease it by $146K.
Voters also rejected an attempt by former Advisory Committee member Al Hamilton to reduce budgets to a value that would result in no tax increase for residents.
At the beginning of the main budget article, Hamilton “held” nearly every budget, forcing them to be discussed individually. As each budget came up for discussion, Hamilton motioned to decrease it to a no tax increase level.
“This year we have a viable option to the budget that has been presented to us,” Hamilton said of the zero-tax increase budget prepared as a minority report of the Advisory Committee. “Democracy is about having choices.”
Hamilton’s motions did not go unsupported, but in most cases they didn’t garner enough votes to pass, with a motion to slightly lower the $150K Reserve Fund the lone exception. After four failed attempts, Hamilton withdrew his hold requests on the remaining budgets, and all proceeded to pass without reduction.
Not surprisingly, the most impassioned debate of the evening came over the K-8 school budget.
Superintendent Charles Gobron told voters reductions proposed by the selectmen and Advisory Committee would damage the schools without offering an appreciable savings to tax payers. He noted the Advisory Committee position of trimming another $145K from the budget would result in a savings of $36 per year for the average family while resulting in personnel cuts at the school. “That doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Gobron’s decidedly high-energy presentation in defense of his budget was countered by a more muted response from Selectman John Rooney. “I’m not going to yell at you,” Rooney told voters. “I’m going to give you some facts.”
Rooney said other school districts are making due with larger classes sizes, and Southborough could too. He also said the school budget has increased by $2.5M over the past five years, while enrollment over the same period has decreased. “We have fewer children, but we’re spending more money,” he said.
“No one has wanted to question the school budget in the past,” Rooney said. “This is the year to start addressing it.”
But Gobron, it seems, was preaching to the choir. His speech elicited loud applause and hoots. Following his presentation, several parents took to the microphone with their own emotional pleas to defend the budget, with many saying they moved to Southborough because of the schools.
“You’re making the decision that schools are important,” Clifford Road resident Erin Wheatley told voters. “I live in Southborough because I expect to have the best education available to my children.”
Pine Hill Road resident Neil Rossen said voters should set aside the “emotional appeal” made by some and consider those in town on fixed incomes. “Apparently the school does not have to live within its means,” he said.
In the end, voters defeated the motions to reduce the budget and approved the amount requested by the school committee. An attempt to reduce Southborough’s share of the Algonquin budget also failed.
Town Meeting continues tonight at 7:30 pm at Trottier. I’ll have more about what’s on tap — along with a warning to you parents who think your job is done now that the school budgets have passed — in an upcoming post.