Friday, January 7, 2000
Selectmen see red as preparations for FinCom budget hearings begin
With barely enough time to take a breath after tax bills were due, the selectmen were already estimating the amount of the next tax override after the first budget meeting on December 28. The alternative, however, according to the budgets presented was to face a depletion of essential town services since the fire, police, communications and building departments all came in over guidelines set by the finance committee.
Guidelines too low?
At the selectmen's meeting on December 14 certain board members raised the issue of whether the FinCom guidelines (1.4 percent for most town departments and six percent for the Carlisle School) were too low. Selectman Michael Fitzgerald questioned how much input the finance committee had in setting its guidelines. While acknowledging that the town must "tighten our belts," Fitzgerald noted that the town has contractual obligations at the school and police department which will make it impossible for these departments to meet the guidelines. "We have a committee that is operating in a quasi-vacuum," he said.
Board chair Doug Stevenson replied that the FinCom was just doing a balancing act, working backward from expected revenues and trying to "spread the pain." Selectman Vivian Chaput added that, nevertheless, the selectmen must be involved in the balancing process. "It seems like a fait accompli," she said.
Fire chief Bob Koning presented a fire department budget having a 12.17 percent increase over last year's budget (approximately $16,000 over the FinCom guideline). The increase was primarily due to three-percent wage increases and payments for training, the biggest single item being for auxiliary firefighters who have not been paid for training sessions. "If we don't pay the auxiliary firefighters we will probably lose them and then have nobody to move up into the regular positions," said Koning.
Referring to the on-call fire department, Stevenson said, "This is one of the best bargains the town has going. If we're going to maintain it, we have to provide some incentives."
Koning, wearing his building inspector hat, asked for a 6.32 percent budget increase for the building inspections department (approximately $3,500 over the FinCom guideline). The increase in this budget was also primarily related to salary increases of three percent and increased secretarial time due to greater workload. Regarding the salary increases, Koning agreed with town administrator David DeManche, who cast the increases as an equity issue. "If we're giving [the three percent increase] to the contractual employees, we need to give it to the non-contractual employees too," he said.
The building department has actually always generated more revenue than it expended, said Koning. Inspection and permit fees, which were recently raised to keep Carlisle in line with other towns, are expected to be at least $140,000 this year, estimated Koning. These fees go into the general fund, however, and will be eaten up by overruns in other departments, observed selectman John Ballantine.
Police chief Dave Galvin presented a level service budget for the police department which is 4.81 percent over last year's budget (approximately $24,500 over the FinCom guideline). The new budget takes into account the state's share of the career incentive pay program agreed to last year (the Quinn Bill) and satisfies the union contract (2.75 percent base wage increase plus step increases) and a non-union cost-of-living increase of three percent.
Meeting the FinCom guideline would require elimination of the traffic enforcement program, which more than pays for itself, and a 50-percent reduction of in-service training. Galvin felt that elimination of the training, which includes annual firearms training and self-defense, would be a great loss.
The proposed communications department budget is a level service budget. The budget reflects a three percent cost of living increase for all employees. However, in order to meet the FinCom guideline, the proposed budget would need to b be reduced by $10,000. This would necessitate the total elimination of the in-service training account, a 50-percent reduction in the office repair and equipment account and a 50-percent reduction in the department's service contract.
While Galvin acknowledged that he could live with certain reductions in the expense budgets, he warned against sacrificing the training. If the town does not keep up to the current standards of training for emergency dispatchers, a tragic event could occur which could also leave the town vulnerable to a lawsuit.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito