As we head towards Monday night’s Special Town Meeting, I’m continuing to look at what’s on the Warrant.
This morning, I’m focusing on the big changes I missed is being made to Article 3 and context for Article 4.
The good news is that none of the funding Articles at Special Town Meeting will add to the Town’s FY22 Budget and tax rates to be set.
Article 3 – Amend FY2022 Budget — General Fund/Water
On Wednesday, I wrote about Article 3, explaining the Board of Health’s request for an additional $99,682. Yesterday, I learned that the Board had voted to pull the request on Town Meeting floor.
A handout I quoted referred to the change, but didn’t clarify that the Article was being amended. As I posted Wednesday, the handout explains:
The BOH is utilizing other town funds to supplement the two full-time permanent positions as listed in the warrant.
BOH Chair Chelsea Malinowski reached out yesterday to explain the reason for the change. The compromise is similar to the one reached in the spring. Town officials believe they can take advantage of federal aid to cover the expense. (Scroll down for more detail on the funding plan for this year.)
The majority of Board of Health members were concerned that not officially budgeting the positions may jeopardize their plans for the full time staff to be permanent. (Advisory and Selectmen have questioned increased spending on the department given the economy.)
To establish their intent with the public, BOH posted the handout justifying the full time jobs. BOH Member Safdar Medina will speak to voters on Monday when they propose amending the Article to remove the request. (Officials won’t ask for it to be indefinitely postponed since it also included a budget item enabling the Town to lower water fees charged.)
Some of the above context was from watching this week’s Advisory Committee Meeting with the Board of Selectmen. I asked Malinowski (who is also the BOS Vice Chair) to help me understand a discussion they had on another item –Article 4.
Article 4 – Amend FY2022 Budget — Capital
This Article requests $115,000 for capital expenses, but without adding to the budgets voters approved be paid by taxes. Instead the funds will come from “Free Cash” in the Town’s coffers.*
$85K of the Article includes $40K voters may have already thought they approved in May.
Article 10 at Annual Town Meeting listed several expenses. Among them were two items that Healey announced to TM voters would instead be covered by PILOT payments by private schools. When he made the motion to approve an amended list of expenses, the total accidentally left out another item – an IT server for $40K.
While the $0K was left out of the motion, it was included in the estimated 3.19% tax increase TM voters were told would be caused by approving the requested operating and capital budgets.
[Note: I decided that I should clarify that I don’t mean the tax increase won’t go the projection last spring. It’s just that a likely increase is based on other unrelated factors. Passing or rejecting the Articles won’t impact the tax rate for the year.]***
Since May, the IT Director, who started not long before ATM, evaluated that what the Town really needs is a 3 server system with redundancies. That costs an additional $45K. The STM Warrant asks for $85K for the servers.
In addition, the Town is seeking $30K for Engineering/Capital Feasibility Studies. That is for the Town’s ongoing work to determine what its long term municipal building needs are:
This item will allow the Capital Planning Committee along with numerous other town Boards, Committees, and Department Heads to continue exploration and any other preliminary design in developing a comprehensive capital plan related to the building needs of all town departments currently located in the Town House, Cordaville Hall, South Union School, DPW Facility, Library and School Administration space. Any proposed funds to be spent with this article will only be allowed after a presentation to and authorization by the Board of Selectmen.
More details on Fy22 plan for BOH funding
Originally, the Board wanted full time staff not just in reaction to the pandemic, but to enable the Board to better handle its responsibilities for the community. (You can read an explanation of that background in Wednesday’s post.) In order to take advantage of federal funding through FEMA and CARES for unbudgeted Covid expenses through December, the Board agreed to not budget the positions through Annual Town Meeting.
The compromise was to ask Special Town Meeting to fund the positions beginning in January.
This fall, the Advisory Committee pointed out that many of the hours the Public Health Director and Nurse are putting in are still related to Covid. The Committee opined that federal aid for contracted hours should still be available in 2022 if the cost isn’t budgeted.
If the federal funding is rejected, Advisory Chair Kathy Cook assured BOH there is enough money in the Town’s Reserve Funds to cover the expense.** Malinowski asked how Advisory would keep on top of making sure funds weren’t overdrawn at the end of the year. Cook responded that the amount for BOH will be in Advisory’s spreadsheet as an encumbrance against the Reserve Fund.
She followed that Town Department heads are on notice that no expenses will be approved for Reserve Fund reimbursement unless Advisory is notified at the time it is incurred. She warned that if someone comes to them in June with an expense incurred in January it won’t even be considered.
*Free Cash is the Town’s unrestricted available funds generated when revenue collections are more than budget estimates and/or when expenditures and encumbrances (unpaid bills and orders) are less than appropriations, or both. They are certified at the beginning of the new fiscal year.
**Reserve Funds are basically the Town’s rainy day fund for unforseen expenses. Unlike Free Cash, the amount in this fund is actually appropriated each year at Annual Town Meeting. Spending from this fund requires approval by the Advisory Committee.
***Updated (10/29/21 12:13 pm): I worried that as written, the post may have given the false impression that the tax rate remains projected as a 3.19% increase. So, I inserted a note under the recap for Article 4. At the October 19th BOS meeting, selectmen noted chagrin that lower assessed values for commercial properties than were projected will negatively impact the tax rate. They hope to discuss that at their November 3rd meeting.
To avoid adding additional tax burden to residents, selectmen and Advisory agreed that new funding requests approved this fall will be charged to Free Cash.