With Annual Town Meeting slated to open earlier than in past years, Town officials need to finalize budgets soon. As I previously posted, the Board of Selectmen carved out this Thursday night to focus on fiscal issues.
The Admin and Finance team will present it’s budget recommendation. The meeting packet previews a budget projected to increase the tax rate by 6.37%. That is estimated as an average residential household increase of $645.23.
Only 3.15% of that is due to new operational/capital expense increases. The rest is for “debt service”, with 2.62% attributed to the new Public Safety Building project.
Reaching that budget required saying no to a lot of budget requests. To avoid going in circles, the board asked to have all the facts and arguments that night. Any departments or committees with objections to their budgets were to make them known more than two days in advance. Based on the agenda and packet posted yesterday, there were quite a few.
Several committees and two departments are apparently pushing back on the team’s denial of $168,810 in additional spending. The team’s presentation states “Each additional $50,000 in funding is equivalent to: $12.19 or .12%”.
Following the budget presentation, selectmen will hear five presentations to consider more funding. Below, I listed those departments and related discrepancies:
- Historical Commission ($500 – $1,000* for operating budget – based on needs for managing the preservation restriction and the demolition delay bylaw)
- Municipal Technology Committee ($5,000 for an operating budget – MTC has no budget and argues one is needed to save the Town more than that amount through improved efficiencies)
- Open Space Preservation Commission ($1,500 to double its operating budget)**
- Police Department ($48,764 for a 2nd new police cruiser under Capital Expenses)
- Southborough Youth & Family Services ($36,046 for additional staffing hours)
[Editor’s Note: A presentation by the Economic Development Committee was added in a revised agenda released on the morning of January 10th.]***
The budget also lists discrepancies with boards not listed as presenting tomorrow night:
- Advisory Committee ($500 for an additional .4% increase for its operating budget,** plus another $70,000 discrepancy for the Reserve Fund is likely addressing a recommendation by Advisory)
- Planning Board ($6,000 for an additional 3.94% increase for its operating budget)**
It is possible that selectmen may question representatives of those boards attending. (It looks like if anyone is attending for either committee, it won’t be a quorum. No agendas are posted.****)
Department heads not listed were also asked to attend, in case selectmen have questions.
At last week’s meeting, Town Administrator Mark Purple reiterated that departments and committees requests are reasonable. Taken individually, each one has a case to make for a bigger budget. But putting all the requests together, the asks are too much. (You can read more about the Town’s financial challenges this year in my previous post on the issues here.)
The presentation clarifies that some figures are still potentially in flux. There may be updates for the regional schools, Assabet technical school and the Retirement Assessment.
You can preview the budget presentation and the email communications about objections in the meeting packet here. (It includes a preview of SYFS’ formal presentation they will be making to the board.)
Following the presentations, selectmen will discuss their recommendation on the numbers. The board may not decide on final numbers this week.
Selectmen intend to schedule a follow up meeting with the Advisory Committee. Advisory will have it’s own positions on the budget to share with voters at Town Meeting. If opinions differ, they’ll likely try to hash out compromises in advance. (The officials are willing to go to voters with differing positions. But they prefer to have a united front when possible.)
Of course, even if selectmen and Advisory agree on the budget, the final outcome is determined by voters.
Residents aren’t invited to comment tonight. But there will be a chance to comment on spending, vote up or down, and even make motions to amend the figures on Town Meeting floor. So, save the date. Annual Town Meeting opens on Saturday, March 23 at 1:00 pm.
*The budget presentation listed a $1,000 discrepancy with the Historical Commission. The recommended budget calls for cutting $1,000 from their current funding level. An email from Chair Joe Hubley states “I’d be able to get bye with a $500 cut.”
**The presentation doesn’t indicate if the budget cuts OSPC, Advisory, or the Planning Board were intended to represent cutting any specific items or just keeping down their overall budget increases. (The packet does include an email outlining Planning’s budget. The others weren’t detailed in the packet.)
***Updated (1/10/19 11:10 am): This morning a revised agenda added a budget presentation by the EDC. You can read more about that in a dedicated post.
****Updated (1/10/19 1:55 pm): I have to add another update. This time it’s to correct my error in sloppy reporting. I wrote that Planning posted an agenda saying it would be there. I don’t know what I misread or misrecalled – but that isn’t the case. Planning’s next meeting is 1/28/19. There is no agenda for them to be at tonight’s meeting. (Though, one member may attend without posting an agenda.)
Updated (1/15/19 8:51 am): After hearing from Historical’s Treasurer Kate Battles, I realized my original wording above was probably misleading. It didn’t clarify that Historical was seeking to reduce the cut being made to its current funding level.