The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 15, 2002


How FY03 budgets fell so low

In October of last year, the Carlisle Finance Committee (FinCom) developed a budget for use as a "guideline" for town departments to use in formulating requests for next year. In theory this budget "balanced" revenues and expenses, allowing an increase of 5% in the operating budget for the Carlisle Public School, 5% in the town's assessment for CCHS, and 2-1/2% for all other departments. Throughout the fall and winter, FinCom learned that some expenses that the town would be required to pay would be much higher than the October plan had allowed, and lowered estimates of revenues the town would receive from the state and from a free cash transfer. [For details on these nondiscretionary expenses and revenue changes, see February 1 and March 1 Mosquito.]

$500K out of balance

At their February 27 meeting, FinCom set out to adopt the "balanced budget" legally required to be submitted to town meeting, still planning to use the October figures, and hoping to add $250K to raise the school and other departments above their guideline. (These additional funds combined a transfer of $225K from the town's free cash, and lowering the appropriation for the FY03 reserve fund by $25K.)

However, the once-balanced budget showed a deficit of over $500K, after FinCom had raised the nondiscretionary expenses to what would be legally required, and the CCHS assessment to the lowest level Carlisle could hope to pay, and lowered revenue estimates. This deficit swallowed the extra funds.

Then, trying to spread the burden of reductions as equally as possible, FinCom cut about $303,000 from the remaining budget lines, reducing each the same proportion below the original guideline.

The department allocations from the final balanced budget were approved by a vote of six to one with member John Nock, who had earlier failed in his attempt to persuade other members to increase revenue estimates, opposed. The balanced budget thus approved would result in a 3.2% tax increase, and is shown in the first column of table 1 .

Override aims below 6%

FinCom then met March 5 to develop a recommendation for one or more proposition 2-1/2 overrides to restore departments to the original guideline amount. Member David Ives proposed an override of $373,650, which would result in an estimated tax rate increase just below 6% (5.9%).

Keeping the tax rate increase at or below 5% has dominated discussion at every FinCom meeting since December, with most members holding that 5 to 6% is acceptable, David Trask advocating 4%, and Nock arguing for as high as 7%. Members have also worried whether voters would not approve an override above a certain level, and Ives and Simon Platt advocated several different levels of override rather than the all or nothing approach favored by Trask.

Trask has argued that 5.9% is too much, because that increase is higher than last year, and citizens' "portfolios have shrunk significantly." His opposition to several levels was eventually supported by other members. They rejected by a vote of 4 to 2 Platt's motion for an additional $150,000 override, with the first $90K used to restore the CCHS budget to the Concord guideline level and the balance added to the Carlisle public school budget.

The FinCom-recommended $373K override was then added proportionally to all the discretionary budgets, to restore reduced guidelines to what they had been in October. (See the second and third columns of table 1)

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito