Friday, February 1, 2002
Selectmen urge budget cuts, fee increases
Several town departments were urged to rein in costs when they presented preliminary budgets at the January 22 meeting of the Carlisle Board of Selectmen. The finance committee (FinCom) has recently predicted a million-dollar shortfall between next year's budget requests and income estimates (see FinCom article on page 1 of the January 25 Mosquito.) The selectmen considered approaching the problem with a combination of budget cuts, a transfer from free cash, and an override at Town Meeting. The selectmen hope to achieve about $350,000 in cuts from the proposed budget.
Representatives from the conservation commission (ConsCom), recreation commission, treasurer, police, fire and communication departments, and the building inspector discussed their proposed budgets. The building inspector was the only one whose budget came within the 2.5% increase recommended by the FinCom.
The ConsCom budget had a 5% increase, caused by a request to increase the hours of the part-time assistant. Selectmen questioned the need for the increase, and also encouraged the commission to raise the fees they charge for administering the wetlands bylaw.
ConsCom administrator Sylvia Willard explained by phone later that ConsCom hopes to have two warrant articles relating to the wetlands bylaw on the next Town Meeting. One article would include changes to bring the bylaw into alignment with the current state law (Wetland Protection Act.) It would also enable the ConsCom to move the definition of the fees from the bylaw into local regulations, and this would allow the ConsCom to raise fees in the future without another vote of Town Meeting. The ConsCom also hopes to have a second warrant article that would tighten the wetland bylaw further, to increase protection of the wetlands.
Treasurer and tax collector
Town treasurer and tax collector Ann Vandal reviewed her section of the budget with the selectmen, and said that training was the only place to cut. "I honestly don't see any other flexibility in here," she said.
One increasing budget item is the cost of insurance. Vandal said that about 190 out of 300 town employees (3/4 work at the school) use the town's group health insurance plan. The town splits the cost of the plan 50/50 with each employee. Carlisle enrolls with about 20 other towns in the group plan, which has experienced rising rates. However, Vandal thought that rates would probably rise if the town switched insurers. Besides increased rates, Vandal had estimated $12,000 in additional costs due to new hires and employees switching from the single to a family insurance plan (for example, when the spouse of a town employee is laid off.) On behalf of the board of selectmen, Stevenson thanked Vandal for "doing a great job during the transition period" during the retirement of former Treasurer Nancy Koerner and Tax Collector William Koerner.
Fire chief Bob Koning explained the fire department budget, which included wage increases due to increased work load, as well as an increase in the basic stipend, which was part of an agreement made three years ago. Selectmen asked why there was an increase in ambulance and fire calls, and how could they be reduced. Koning said, "first, on the ambulance, you can't reduce it." He thought that hospitals were releasing patients too early, especially the elderly. Also, parents of very young children were calling for the ambulance more frequently.
Faulty home fire alarm systems were implicated in the rise in fire calls. Selectman Vivian Chaput asked if there was a way to raise revenue from false alarms due to automatic alarm systems. At present, the town does not fine home owners whose alarms generate multiple false alarms, but they are sent a letter after the second false alarm. Most new houses contain extensive alarm systems. Koning said that while automatic sensor systems generate a lot of false alarms, when the fire is real, the automatic alarm will save a lot of damage to the house.
The communications (dispatch) department budget was about $600 above the 2.5% guideline, with the difference due to an increase in the cost to service the communications department equipment. Koning reported that the department has been running well, and has had low turnover.
Police chief Dave Galvin presented a budget with about a 6.5% increase, or 4% above the FinCom guideline. Currently, Carlisle has two cars on patrol at a time to cover the town. Selectman Doug Stevenson expressed concern that wages were already $28,000 over budget, even before the new police officer's contract is finalized.
Galvin explained that a new item in the police budget was the Weslaw legal update program, which the town had formerly paid out of the legal or insurance budget. Town administrator Madonna McKenzie agreed that it was appropriate to move the expense into the police budget, and the selectmen agreed that it was important for the police department to be kept updated on changes to the laws.
On a more positive note, Galvin said that during the past six months, the new traffic officer has generated about $22,000 in traffic fines, about $13,000 of which will come back to the town. Also, the DARE program is completely funded by the state. In this program, police officers educate the Carlisle school children about the dangers of substance abuse.
Chair of the recreation commission Maureen Tarca reported that their budget had been at the 2.5% guideline until she learned that Diment Park would need $2,000 for a fresh application of specially formulated nontoxic playground mulch, as well as $1,000 for basic maintenance to insure the safety of the playground structures. She admitted that there was no legal requirement for the additional mulch, but felt it was important to do a basic "tune-up" to make sure the playground is safe.
The Selectmen also questioned the $2500 line item for portable toilet facilities at the Banta-Davis Field, and asked if the sports teams who played at Banta-Davis might be willing to share the costs. Tarca said she would ask them. She said the Carlisle sports organizations have been very helpful, and in particular the Concord Carlisle Soccer program, which is donating $15,000 for upgrades to Banta Davis Field.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito