Friday, May 10, 2002
High taxes, teacher salaries dominate budget debate
A number of presentations preceded the discussion of the FY03 operating budget in Articles 3 to 5. FinCom chair Tony Allison began with a jazzy animated computer slide show describing how the finance committee develops the balanced budget and any recommended overrides.
FinCom member Lisa Jensen-Fellows followed with projections of tax increases over the next five years, assuming a number of "what ifs". If taxes continue to grow by 7.6% as they have since 1999, the average tax bill will rise by $3,546 in the next five years.
"People costs," including salaries and benefits, consume 75% of the town's budget.
Chairs of the Carlisle Public school (CPS) and Concord-Carlisle Regional school committees (RSC), Suzanne Whitney-Smith and Cindy Nock, summarized what reductions in the schools' budgets can be expected if each override does not pass.
It was 9 p.m. before town moderator Sarah Brophy opened the floor for questions and comments from the 525 citizens in attendance. Whether due to the long presentations by officials wearing out the voters' itch to debate, or to the moderator's opening remarks requesting civility, the tone of subsequent discussion was subdued and respectful.
Teacher salaries criticized
Both Jensen-Fellows' presentation and citizens' comments targeted increases in teaching salaries as the source for school budget increases. "Non-school town employees are underpaid," but teacher pay is comparatively high, Jensen-Fellows asserted. Carlisle teacher salaries are within the top five in the state and CCHS pay is the highest in the state, approximately 20% higher than in Dover-Sherborn or Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High Schools, she added. (School committee members did not dispute Jensen-Fellows' assertions.)
Bob Macauley of Log Hill Road pointed to teachers' contracts negotiated "without any public input or discussion." Not only "what we're paying these teachers" but other provisions, such as the CCHS limits on the number of classes per teacher, are details that we have to understand "as citizens who pay these bills."
Alan Lehotsky of West Street and Melanie McCandless of Hemlock Hill Rd did defend teacher salaries, however. McCandless, a CCHS senior, pointed out that the high pay at CCHS helps attract excellent teachers, and that the high school's excellence ensures students a high rate of college acceptance.
Not "fair" to non-school workers
Others criticized what they called the "inequity" of different pay increases for town and school employees. It is not "fair" or "equitable" for nonunion employees at the Carlisle school to receive 4% raises, when town employees will receive a wage increase of no more than 3% (none if the override does not pass), former selectman Ralph Anderson said.
Moreover, he continued, the school committee has declared that the 4% raises, which business manager Eileen Riley reported would be $21,000 next year, are more important than the items on their list of reductions. The school should further work to reduce administrative costs before any override is approved, Anderson added.
Later, school committee member Paul Morrison suggested that instead of the school reducing raises the town should increase other employees' pay, or "you're going to lose good employees" and their replacements will be less skilled and experienced. So, why does the board of selectmen promote "this inequity" between the pay increases for town and school employees, board of health chair Steve Opolski asked the selectmen. "There's a difference of opinion" between the selectmen and the school committee on this issue, Ballantine replied.
"Please do not tax us out"
Several worried about taxpayers whose fixed income cannot keep up with tax increases of over 33% in the past few years. William deFlorio of Robbins Drive reported that at age 77 he is still working to keep up with costs. "I do not want to move . . . Please do not tax us out of our home," he pleaded.
Others alluded to a concern, expressed often this winter by selectman Doug Stevenson, that continuing tax increases could accelerate the turnover of empty nest homes to families with children. We need the 60% of homeowners who have no children in the household, to subsidize families with children, said Larry Bearfield of North Road, identifying himself as chair of the Carlisle Committee for Tax fairness.
What to do with the Rolls
"I am tired of having to pay [for] the best of the best of the best of everything," said Steve Kendall of Cross Street, who said he "has spoken to a realtor" about looking for property in other towns. Referring to the school as a Rolls Royce, he warned that when he leaves, "2.2 children will move into my house," and if fifty other families do the same, the increase for school costs will add up to $650,000, he said.
"We're not a Rolls Royce" and "we work hard to be as efficient as we can with the dollars that we have," said school committee member David Dockterman. Though comparing per pupil costs is not easy, Carlisle actually spends less than some other towns, including Lincoln and Concord, according to figures from the Massachusetts association of school committees, he added.
Others questioned how budgets could actually be reduced. Broadly, Town Meeting is the "arbiter" of how much the town spends, Allison replied to a query from Michael Barach of River Road. To Walter Hickman of Concord Road, who had asked whether anyone in town government could mandate budget cuts, Brophy explained that "technically," someone could move from Town Meeting floor to amend any department budget.
FinCom focuses on writing check
Several referred to appreciation in values for homes in town as justification for the tax increases. But the actual market price of your home is not what FinCom attends to in developing budgets, but "how much the check is you have to write . . . to live in this town," Allison replied to a question from James Bohn of Concord Street.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito