Selectmen eye FY19 budget
In preparation for the April 30 Town Meeting, members of the Finance Committee (FinCom) presented the current status of the FY19 budget to the Board of Selectmen (BOS) during the Selectmen’s February 13 meeting.
At the outset, FinCom Chair Scott Triola noted that there are some Warrant Articles being proposed that are “pretty undefined” in terms of the amount of money being requested. The FinCom’s initial guideline to town departments is to budget a 1. 37 % increase over FY18, not including cost of living adjustments (COLA) to staff salaries. During the meeting, the BOS voted for a 2% COLA for non-union employees. Union employees currently receive a COLA between 2. 25% and 2. 9%.
CCHS budget depends on Concord Town Meeting vote
The Concord-Carlisle High School budget continues to be an uncertainty for FY19. The Regional School Committee (RSC) is bringing a budget to the Concord Town Meeting that is higher than what is recommended by the Concord FinCom. Carlisle’s share of the difference is about $212,000. Because Concord’s Town Meeting will be held after the Carlisle Warrant is printed, the high school budget will be an unknown. If the CCHS budget that passes in Concord is not the same as the budget in the Carlisle Warrant, the FinCom will propose an amendment at Carlisle’s Town Meeting. The FinCom will decide in March which budget to include in the Warrant.
Triola highlighted other likely but undefined increases to the overall budget including facilities, Fire Department coverage, employee health insurance, Other Post Employment Benefits (funding for future retiree health insurance) and staffing. He expects the Facilities Committee to add a Warrant Article for approximately $400,000 to $450,000 to fund a range of maintenance issues in town-owned buildings. The Fire Chief is asking for fire coverage contingency funding which, in theory, the FinCom supports but does not yet know the amount being requested.
A 10% increase for health insurance is built into the proposed budget. However, after researching health insurance alternatives for employees, Finance Director Kerry Colburn-Dion said it may be possible to offer a variety of options which could save both the employees and the town money. If employees take advantage of the new options, the increase will be lower than the budgeted 10% but the actual numbers will not be available until after Town Meeting.
The FinCom included a $75,000 increase in Other Post Employee Benefits (OPEB) which represents a 25% increase. In addition, there are requests for additional staff by the Conservation Commission, Board of Health, the Town Clerk and the Finance Director. Triola said, “We are investing a lot in infrastructure, we are going to start paying for the communications system this year . . . there is going to be a Warrant for a lot of facilities, potential traffic and pathways, I think we need to be very vigilant about staffing and reserve any increases . . . to critical areas that we really need to provide service.”
Triola noted that the long-term debt currently on the books is coming down. However, debt will be added for the new Public Safety Communications System. The FinCom added $300,000 for FY19 principal and interest payments for the project, though Triola noted that the final amount is still up in the air and it is possible that it will come in lower than initially estimated.
On the plus side, the Assessor’s Office released roughly $300,000 in tax revenue that was previously being held (see “Assessors release $300K,” December 15.) The FinCom is planning to use that money to offset some expenses in the FY19 budget.
Other possible Warrant Articles
Other possible Warrant Articles include money for a pathway extension, a pedestrian safety study and a municipal solar array, Triola said, “The time for placeholders [on the Warrant] is over. We need to know what the requests are and the details to back up those requests.” BOS member Nathan Brown asked, “What if all these Warrant Articles go through?” Triola did some quick math and replied, “We could have north of $1,000,000 in Warrants, that right now, I don’t know if they will even be Warrants. That’s a pretty big universe of Warrants floating out there.”
Selectman Kerry Kissinger questioned the impact of the proposed budget on real estate taxes. Triola responded, “As a town we are contemplating investing a lot of money in infrastructure. We are investing money above and beyond the norm and that puts added pressure in terms of maintaining service and cost of living.” BOS Chair Luke Ascolillo added, “Facilities is huge this year . . . it’s been put off and put off for way too long . . . it has got to be done.” ∆