Friday, February 9, 2001
FinCom, boards explore creative funding options at budget hearings
The Carlisle Finance Committee (FinCom) continued to hear budget presentations from town boards and administrators on January 24 and 31. FY 02 draft budgets from the board of health and the conservation commission (ConsCom) far exceeded the FinCom's 3 percent budget increase guideline, citing the need for additional staff hours as well as increasing operating expenses. The recreation commission (RecCom) budget also exceeded guidelines, although its user fees far exceeded the projected expenses. Presentations from the planning board and the town clerk were brief and very well received, given that their budgets were within the 3 percent guideline.
Groups that charge user fees, such as ConsCom and RecCom, explored ways of funding a larger part of their expenses out of these funds.
Board of health
Board of health chair Steve Opolski presented an FY 02 budget request of $55,292, an increase of 15.9 percent over fiscal year 2001. Opolski indicated three factors leading to the increase over guideline: weekly hours paid to the board's agent were increased to match more closely the actual hours being worked, higher salaries are being paid to the board's staff, in line with the town's Wage and Classification study; and the hourly rate paid for engineering services was increased to market rates.
The FinCom focused on the increase for engineering services. Opolski explained that these costs had been unusually low for several years. "We are fortunate that Rob Frado [the board's engineering consultant] started his own company, and part of the deal was that he held his rates down. He has been considerably under market. We did a survey of engineering costs at other town boards as well as boards of health in other towns, and he is on the low end. I think we have a really good deal with him, not just money-wise, but in terms of his knowledge of the town and so forth."
FinCom members asked what percent of the board's costs are paid out of user fees and whether more could be funded from this source. Opolski explained that the board is allowed to collect permit fees, for example for septic permits and Title V inspections, and hold the funds in a special revolving account, referred to as a 53E1/2 account. Engineering services and other costs related to the project that needs the permit are then paid out of the 53E1/2 account. Opolski indicated that they had tried to identify everything that could legally be funded from the permit fees. "We have two employees, one agent and one secretary," he said., "We can't pay a full-time person out of the 53E1/2. The agent is an employee of the town as opposed to a consultant. What we are doing is paying our [part-time] secretary her extra hoursout of this account, because she is doing work related to those fees."
The conservation commission budget was presented by chair Carolyn Kiely. The conservation commission is requesting $51,041, an increase of 14.4 percent. Kiely explained that fully 50 percent of the increase was for staff, representing what was needed to give competitive salaries to their full-time conservation officer and one part-time assistant. The non-staff increase is primarily to allow ConsCom to better address their land-management responsibilities.
"People often view us just as the regulators," she said. "But one of our responsibilities is to manage the town's conservation landover 1029 acres. We also manage 69 acres of town forest." As part of the discussion of ConsCom's management responsibilities, Kiely and the FinCom members discussed in detail the need to repair the dam on the Greenough land. This was not actually part of the ConsCom's operating budget (it will be submitted later as part of the town's capital budget). But it was valuable as an example of the consequences of failing to adequately fund land management, maintenance, and repair.
The recreation commission was represented by Maureen Tarca. The commission requested a budget of $70,782, an increase of 8.3 percent. Most of the line items of the RecCom budget (including staff) were held to the 3 percent guideline. The biggest contributor to going over guideline was a 248 percent increase in the cost of electricity for lights, pumps, and sprinkler systems for the athletic fields the commission is responsible for.
Most of the discussion at FinCom related to the fact that the commission's operating budget is dwarfed by the funds it receives from user fees. Tarca explained, "In fiscal year 2000, we deposited $175,000 into our revolving fund. That's how much we brought in fees for our classes. We expended $139,000 to operate those programs. We are making an income that pays for things we don't have to come to you for."
"A quick example of what we are using the [income] for:
· We bought bleachers for the Davis field ($5,000)
· In conjunction with the school we agreed to buy electronic lifts for the basketball courts
· We bought all new gym pads for the gym
"Whenever the school needs something that we can use for our program, my motto is we buy it, because then we don't have to come to you and the school doesn't have to come to you. Our goal is not to make money. It is to put the money back into our program."
FinCom member Charlie Parker responded, "This is a very rosy picture, and it makes it look like"
"...like we don't need any money?" interjected Tarca. She then explained that the user fees must be spent on costs directly related to the programs that generated them; they cannot be used to pay the salaries of full-time town employees. "Every single line item [paid out of the user fees] I have to justify that it is for recreation purposes The town voted [the recreation director] as an employee. You can't pay that out of the revolving fund." Parker asked, "Is it sacred that she be a town employee?" FinCom chair Simon Platt replied, "I seem to recollect that at the time when we talked about having a [recreation] director, it was stated that it's a self-funding position I am going to ask Madonna [town administrator Madonna McKenzie] if she has to be a town employee. There is kind of a symmetry here: the director cost is $32,000 and you have made a "profit" of $36,000. Let me put it another way: we said at the Town Meeting that this would be a self-funding position - and it worked. The question is, how do we use one thing to pay for the other?" Tarca replied, "I frankly have no issue with taking the $36,000 we have generated from fees and using it to pay the recreation director."
Planning board treasurer Tom Lane presented the board's budget of $53,162, an increase of 3 percent over the adjusted Fiscal Year 2001 budget of $51,615. Lane also advised the FinCom that the town's Wage and Classification Study would call for salary increases of $2,975 for the board's two employees.
Town clerk Sarah Andreassen presented a budget request of $31,821, an increase of 3 percent over the FY01 budget of $30,895. There was little discussion of the budget itself, since it was right on the 3 percent guideline. However, Andreassen alerted the FinCom to two upcoming issues with financial implications. First, she indicated her intention to take advantage of a state law allowing her to raise fees for any town service (for example, a marriage license) for which the fee amount is not set by a town bylaw. She stated that none of these miscellaneous fees had been increased in her tenure as town clerk. FinCom suggested, and Andreassen agreed, that any such fee increases should be done only with the knowledge and concurrence of the selectmen.
Second, Andreassen noted that, while her own salary was increasing only by the 3 percent guideline, the town wage and classification study had recommended a significantly higher salary for the town clerk. Her FY02 budget request included a salary of $22,608, but the Wage and Classification Study had recommended a range from $29,241 $41,619. (This salary recommendation was excluded from the Town Meeting Warrant article on salaries because the town clerk is an elected position.) "You have to know," she said, "that I am nowhere near the minimum. The next town clerk is going to have to be paid the minimum. In the future that will be a problem."
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito