Southborough selectmen get early look at budget numbers

When it comes to the numbers, there are still more unknowns than there are knowns, but the Board of Selectmen last night got an early look at the municipal budget for fiscal year 2014. All indications suggest it’s going to be another tight year.

Town Administrator Mark Purple told the board he has been working with department heads and the finance team to come up with a preliminary budget, but at this point, it’s a budget that comes with “a lot of caveats.”

Purple said state estimates on local aid have not been released, so the town does not yet know how much revenue it will have in FY14. Added to the uncertain revenue picture are as-of-yet unknown costs like capital requests, employee benefits, and budgets for the K-8 and regional school districts. Historically, the school budgets have accounted for upwards of 70% of the town’s total operational spending.

School Superintendent Charles Gobron is expected to share a preliminary K-8 budget at a school committee meeting tonight. A preliminary budget for Algonquin will be released later this month.

Purple said the budget picture is complicated by the town’s previous reliance on one-time money to fund the operational budget. “The problem is, you can’t depend on (one-time money) from year-to-year,” Purple said, noting the town’s free cash this year was $300K less than last year.

A reliance on non-recurring funding creates “artificial potholes” that will be encountered in the years ahead, Purple said. “We may have to adjust how we do things down the road.”

Purple said the budget picture will become clearer later this month when the governor’s budget is released and preliminary school budgets are made available, but he warned his review of the municipal budget so far suggests “there’s little fat to cut.”

“What we’re looking at now preserves personnel and level services,” Purple said of the early budget. “But there are big pieces we don’t know yet.”

Selectmen will take up the budget discussion again in two weeks, so stay tuned.

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