Friday, December 10, 1999
FinCom sets tough guidelines for FY01 budgets
Both town and school officials will have to face difficult choices over the next few months, if the finance committee's initial budget guidelines for fiscal year 2001 hold. At their November 29 meeting, the FinCom decided on the following increases and cuts:
· 6 percent increase for the Carlisle Public Schools
· 9 percent increase, or less, for the Concord-Carlisle High School
· 7 percent increase for the Gleason Library to allow for additional operating costs for the renovated building
· 1.4 percent increase for all other town departments, except the recreation commission and communications department which will be reduced by $5,000 each and unemployment compensation to be reduced by $33,000.
In setting a guideline for budget preparations, the amount that FinCom can allow for increases for the following year is limited by what members predict about revenues other than property taxes and certain expenses that can vary widely from year to year. These include possible increases or decreases in:
· state aid, including funds from the lottery, which can be unpredictable;
· local receipts (for licenses, fees, motor vehicle excise taxes, etc.);
· the level of the town's free cash" available for transfer to support operating expenses;
· "new growth" in property valuation due to new construction and other building activity;
· short-term interest and other borrowing costs not excluded from the Proposition 2-1/2 levy limit;
· state and county assessments.
Less from free cash
For FY01, FinCom members have assumed there will be no change in state aid or local receipts and no additional new growth beyond what is currently known to the assessors. They did decide on a modest reduction in the amount to be transferred from free cash (from the $189,043 for FY00 to $144,000 for FY01), to maintain the town's free cash level at the $500,000 that has traditionally been the goal.
At the time FinCom set these guidelines, town officials had just received notice of newly revised estimates showing increases of more than $100,000 in state aid for next year. However, FinCom members were unaware of these additional revenues when they made their decisions. FinCom members also did not know the amount required for interest payments at the November 29 meeting.
In discussion during the meeting, FinCom member Tom Bilotta suggested that the difference, between the higher guideline members had originally hoped to set and the funds FinCom estimates will be available, should be allocated proportionally between the school and town departments, so the burden of potential cuts would be equally shared.
Late message to Concord FinCom
In past years, the Carlisle FinCom has also been forced to meet whatever guideline the Concord Finance Committee sets for Concord-Carlisle High School, since if the towns vote different assessments Carlisle would almost surely lose in the resulting joint Town Meeting. Thus, member Charlie Parker urged chair Tony Allison to write formally to the Concord FinCom, asking them to "set a level that we can live with."
Bilotta pointed out that Carlisle's enrollment at the high school has risen dramatically, raising the town's assessment ratio (the proportion of high school costs paid by Carlisle) 9.1 percent. Nonetheless, "we have to be proactive," Parker said, in "urging the utmost restraint" in the high school budget.
In fact, at the time of this discussion, the Carlisle FinCom did not know that the Concord FinCom had already set guidelines for CCHS that would result in an increase in Carlisle's assessment of $401,617 without an override, and $434,322 if voters approved an override. These 17-plus percent increases were substantially higher than Carlisle's 9 percent guideline (about $181,000).
Thus, at least $220,000 and possibly as much as $250,000 in additional expenses were unaccounted for in the Carlisle FinCom's balanced budget.
Tough position on overrides
Sending more messages was very much on the mind of the four members present, as they talked of writing to selectmen and town departments urging restraint in proposing override questions for FY01. Bilotta declared that FinCom has to say "tax increases of this size [as were passed for this fiscal year] are not acceptable on a year-to-year basis." He disapproved of tiering the overrides, referring to last spring's "irresponsible" four-level override question; "each thing should have to win or lose on its own merits."
FinCom should "take a tough position," in discouraging override requests, member Phil Conti added. Bilotta argued that setting guidelines that left the free cash level at $500,000 would provide leverage during negotiations with departments this winter, that FinCom "could relax the free cash position in return for less in overrides."
Sticker shock from tax bills
FinCom also debated how to explain the current fiscal year's 13.9 percent percent increase in the tax rate, reflected in tax bills mailed to voters a few days before the November 29 meeting. Members discussed how to highlight that, as Conti said, "this increase is what you voted for." Increases for school operations, building projects (the school expansion, Town Hall and recreation fields), and last spring's overrides had contributed to the increase.
Tax increases due to projects already approved will continue over the next two years, as the library renovation and Wang-Coombs purchase are bonded [here we could refer to the graph the week before town meeting]. "We ought to take the opportunity to say it's not done and keep that in mind as you vote at the next Town meeting," Parker added.
The FinCom intends to send a letter to the selectmen advising them that any new finance director position should be incorporated into the town administrator's job rather than being a separate job. Bilotta and Allison added, "It's not that much work." All the town needs is someone to handle the mechanics of the finance committee's work and to attend FinCom meetings, Bilotta added. Conti reported that selectmen chair Doug Stevenson favors having the role performed by a combined treasurer/tax collector reporting to the town administrator.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito