Friday, April 26, 2002
Prospects dim for simple resolution of CCHS budget
As the Carlisle Board of Selectmen continued to struggle with how to resolve potential differences with the Town of Concord over the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District FY03 budget, Concord voters, the state department of revenue (DOR), and Carlisle town counsel each added to the complications of an already confusing array of possible outcomes.
Concord Town Meeting on Monday night dashed the selectmen's hopes that they would reduce the number of those possibilities, voting in favor of the highest of three possible override amounts. Concord voters approved the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee's (RSC) requested increase of 8.4% over FY02.
At the Concord town election on May 14, Concord voters will have to approve raising the Proposition 2-1/2 levy limit to raise sufficient funds. As in Carlisle, Town Meeting appropriates funds for particular purposes. If there is not enough within the town's levy limit, a Proposition 2-1/2 override question must be approved at the ballot box to permit the town to raise the additional money. If any of Concord's three overrides pass at town election, the RSC will be left with a substantial difference up to $561,000 between what the two towns have approved for the high school budget.
Up to $164K override possible
There are two possible routes to resolving the dilemma of mismatched budget appropriations. The RSC can reduce their budget to match the level approved in Carlisle, or the Carlisle selectmen can figure how to pay as much as $164,518 more for Carlisle's portion. The second highest Concord override, providing a 7% increase in the school's budget, recommended by the Concord selectmen, would require an operating override of $138,492 in Carlisle. The lowest of the Concord overrides, the 5.4% budget increase recommended by the Concord Finance Committee, would require a $91,858 Carlisle override.)
Incongruent ballot questions
Though citizens in the two towns will vote on a total of five proposition 2-1/2 overrides, none would fund the same budget. In March, the Carlisle selectmen accepted, with little debate, the Carlisle FinCom's recommendation that both the "balanced" (no-override) and the lower override budget include funds that match Concord's no-override budget. (This would allow an increase of 4.4% in the CCHS operating budget.)
Only the higher of Carlisle's two overrides would include any funds over the two towns' levy limits, and even that would provide less than would be required to match the lowest of Concord's override levels.
Selectmen had hoped to use the town's "excess levy capacity" (the difference between what the town is allowed to raise in taxes, but hasn't yet appropriated to spend) to avoid a special election, if Town Meeting approved a higher high school budget. However, this week they learned that the hoped-for excess levy capacity was already included in this year's budget.
The town might also avoid a special election by a transfer of funds from the newly established stabilization fund. However, a Special Town Meeting would be required to approve the transfer, likely to be resisted by FinCom, which has declined to consider spending any of these funds for any purpose.
Thus, nearly every avenue left to resolve any difference would seem to require either a Special Town Meeting (to appropriate more funding and/or approve a transfer) or a special election to approve a proposition 2-1/2 override to pay the higher assessment, or both. The approval of all three override budgets at Concord Town Meeting Monday night makes such an event more likely.
Leaders have several motives to try to avoid such a move. First, the notice legally required would stretch the dates for these events close to July 1, creating uncertainty over final budget amounts both for the high school and for Carlisle town departments. If voters don't approve an override to match the level approved by Concord, selectmen might be forced to cut Carlisle's budgets as much as $165,000. Should voters turn down an increase either at Town Meeting or town election, the RSC could call a "district" meeting, open to voters of both towns, which would vote a budget for the district.
According to both town counsel Paul DeRensis and the DOR, a special election to vote a higher Proposition 2-1/2 override would be required following such a district meeting, extending the suspense further into summer, and increasing the prospect of tlocal budget cuts.
Developing further strategies seems to depend on the outcome of town elections, held on May 14 in both towns. Meanwhile, seeing no mechanism presently available to fund it if approved, selectmen voted unanimously at their Tuesday night meeting not to support Article 6 on the Warrant. This proposal, place on the Warrant by petition, would allow an appropriation that effectively matches the lowest Concord override budget, should it be approved at Concord Town Meeting and the May 14 election.
For more information on this year's high school budget drama, see articles in the April 12 and February 1 editions of the Mosquito, available on-line in the archives at www.carlislemosquito.org.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito