Prior to Annual Town Meeting, the Board of Selectmen plan to take another look at potential cuts to next year’s budget.
This week, Treasurer Brian Ballantine presented selectmen with an updated look at Fiscal Year 2021 based on reduced revenue projections. Even after cutting a part time position he had requested for his own department, Ballantine had to up his projections for next year’s tax increase .
The budget presented this week would require a 3.43% property tax increase. That is estimated as a $363 increase per average household.
It’s worth noting that a 1.25% increase is based on assumptions about Capital projects not on the upcoming Annual Town Meeting Warrant.
Those expenses had already been targeted for a Special Town Meeting in the fall. Selectwoman Lisa Braccio pointed out that the Capital funding requests could change based on work being undertaken by the new Capital Planning Committee.
Tuesday night, Selectmen asked the Finance team to come back with versions of the Operating Budget that would lower or eliminate the tax increase.
This time, they’ll look at scenarios that allow level funding (no increase), a 2% increase, or just adjustments necessary to stay within the Town’s levy capacity for 5 years. (As I shared last week, the new 5 year outlook showed negative balances projected for FY24 and FY26.)
The board indicated that the point of the exercise is to understand what services would need to be sacrificed to reduce the burden on taxpayers. Vice Chair Marty Healey asked for the look at a zero-increase budget but followed that he doubted he would support a budget that heavily slashed. Still, he left room for the possibility based on what he hears from voters.
Selectman Dan Kolenda agreed that the information is valuable to be prepared to answer voter questions. But he advised against giving voters multiple budgets to choose from. Kolenda noted that a small percent of voters show up to ATM, and it will likely be even smaller this year. He warned that providing an option to choose a slashed budget could be “incredibly reckless” for the Town as a whole.
Braccio accepted Kolenda’s point but asked that an initially suggested look at an only 2.5% increase be lowered to 2%.
Advisory Committee Chair Kathy Cook joined the discussion. She noted that Advisory would be in favor of seeing the different scenarios. She opined that what happens when the postponed tax bills come due on June 1st may give an insight on how many residents are having trouble.
Cook clarified the differences her committee previously had with the Finance Team’s budget. She stated that there had been three, but Ballantine’s elimination of the new part-time position in Finance took care of one.
Another disagreement was Economic Development Committee’s requested budget increase. (It’s worth noting that EDC’s Coordinator explained to selectmen on March 10th that there was miscommunication at a prior Advisory Committee meeting about the intended use of requested funds. That explanation took place while Advisory was meeting in another location that evening. Advisory hasn’t met again since.)
The final area was the part time hours increase requested by Southborough Youth and Family Services. The Chair indicated that there were varying positions on Advisory, but SYFS’ request would likely be supported by a split vote.
Looking forward, Cook mentioned that the public schools make up a big portion of the budget. She didn’t know if the school committees had a chance to look at what impacts there may be to next year’s budgets.
A deadline wasn’t set for Ballantine to present new data to selectmen, but it needs to be prior to Annual Town Meeting. That is currently scheduled for May 16th. As of Tuesday night, the board hadn’t heard from the Town Moderator confirmation that the meeting will be postponed again.
The next Board of Selectmen meeting is expected to be May 5th. Moderator Paul Cimino is invited to attend, to discuss a possible new ATM date.
Also on that agenda, selectmen plan to discuss with Cimino which Articles they’ll recommend voters postpone to fall. The board agreed this week to come up with a list to recommend, but didn’t yet vote on which Articles will be on it.
All did agree that anything that wasn’t urgent should be pushed off. Chair Brian Shea quipped, “When in doubt, take it out.”
Updated (4/30/20 9:33 am): Fixed typo in the date for their next planned meeting. The targeted date was May 5th (a Tuesday as usual).