Town Budget preview

The Town Administrator has published his recommended FY16 budget with a $1.85 million increase. According to TA Mark Purple, the budget calls for an average tax bill increase of 2.87%.

Purple estimated an average homeowner could pay $256 more in taxes. But he pointed out to the Board of Selectmen that town-wide assessments of property values the town has been conducting could effect the figures.

The TA walked the board through the budget highlights last night. He explained the actual tax burden may be lower.

Purple said that the budget is based on level funding from the state. But he shared that the Governor’s office announced this week that an increase in local aid is coming. He quoted Lt Governor Karyn Polito as saying “Level funding is a cut.”

Another budget variable is an insurance hike the Town needs to deal with. Only three days prior, they learned that one of their health insurance providers is planning a 16.5% increase in reaction to a claim filed this year.

He reassured the board that they are investigating other providers and options. And Purple told selectmen that if they can’t get a better rate, the increase could cause employees to switch plans, which would mitigate the increase. But for now, the hike is included in the budget as a worst case scenario.

Only one committee was said to be looking for a significant budget increase. The Economic Development Committee, at Selectman John Rooney’s urging, is looking to hire an Economic Coordinator.

The EDC has support from the majority of the board to bring the request to Town Meeting voters. BOS Chair Bill Boland dissented last week, characterizing the request “a year too soon”.

This week, Rooney countered that he thinks it’s “10 years too late.” He asked Purple to have the committee prepared to present to voters the importance of EDC work for reducing the residential tax burden.

Purple also talked about his efforts to departments like Council of the Aging from relying on outside funding. He worried that if a department’s budget relies on Friends organizations that fail to raise enough funds or grants that don’t come through, they would end up operating on a deficit.

Some other budget highlights:

  • Public Works will be operating with two fewer FTEs in the budget. One is a retirement for which staff are purportedly “excited” to cross-train and fill. The other is a past retirement that was never filled. Apparently, staff has agreed that a replacement isn’t needed. [Selectman Paul Cimino had Purple confirm that the DPW “cast of characters” will remain the same unless one of them decides to leave.]
  • Information Technology will request hiring a part time (non-benefited) help desk tech position. They discovered they were paying too much in high level service for mostly lower level issues. The decrease in billable hours to the town’s technology vendor is expected to cover the salary.
  • The budget looks to increase administrative assistant hours in both the Treasurer’s Office and the Planning Department.
  • The Library is looking for 12 hrs staff time increase (spread over 5 positions).
  • Police and Fire Departments will receive more training.
  • Capital Budgets new equipment requests (at 12.5% lower than FY15) for Two trucks for DPW (10-wheel dump truck with sander and a hook lift truck with dump body platform), a van for Facilities, a boat for Fire Dept, and for Police a Chief’s vehicle and tasers.

A pie chart in the presentation highlighted the Town’s big spending buckets. The biggest expense is education with 55% of the budget. Next is employee benefits at 13%, with just over half of that for school employees. The other half is for current and retired town personnel. (Retired teachers have their own plan, not included.)

The next biggest budgets are public safety (8%), debt (7%), and public works (7%).

Purple also reminded the board that by a recent decision, Southborough has to pay their $1.7 million settlement to Northborough over the next eight years.

Purple told the board that he streamlined the process this year. In the past, Advisory reviewed each budget with each department. This year, Purple worked with them to pull out the budgets that they should take a close look at.

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