Friday, May 24, 2002
Town Meeting, election to ask $75K override for CCHS Higher revenues to fund salary increases for town employees
A sometimes loud and angry audience joined the budget discussion at the Carlisle Selectmen's May 21 meeting, which was moved to the school auditorium in order to accommodate the large crowd.
Chairman of the board of selectmen John Ballantine outlined the three reasons he saw for a Special Town Meeting. Significant changes in revenue estimates make more funds available for use if appropriations are approved at a Special Town Meeting. The budget for the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School was not fully funded, and Carlisle must reach agreement with Concord on an acceptable funding level. The third reason Ballantine mentioned was to try to allocate some of the additional expected revenue to fund pay raises for non-school town employees.
Revenue up by $150,000
The selectmen believe the town will receive about $150,000 in additional revenue during the coming fiscal year. The largest portion, $97,223, will be coming from the state. Earlier in the spring, the state told towns to expect a 10% cut in state aid, but town administrator Madonna McKenzie said that lawmakers are reducing cuts to the towns. She had verified with the offices of both state representative Cory Atkins and state senator Carol Cleven that recent legislation passed by the House would increase Carlisle's allotment by at least $97,223. McKenzie said she had also received a letter from the EPA, stating they had reduced the amount charged to Carlisle for the EPA clean-up, freeing up another $10,000.
About $30,000 would become available if the assessors' estimate of new growth is used ($30 million next year) instead of the more conservative estimate ($28 million) used by the finance committee earlier in the spring.
Ballantine also listed several town funds which might be tapped for additional money. He mentioned the ambulance fund, the recreation fund, the conservation fund, and the stabilization fund. The stabilization fund level is expected to increase by about $400,000 when the town's Carriage Way lot is sold later this year.
School committee member Paul Morrison said that the CPS voted against requesting additional funding at this time. They felt the the needs of the high school and town employees should be met first.
Concord voters approved two funding options for CCHS. Both options require more money than Carlisle has appropriated to date, and range from requiring an additonal $91,000 to $138,000. Newly-elected regional school committee (RSC) vice-chairman Michael Fitzgerald said that the regional school committee voted 6-1 to request the higher figure, $138,000, from Carlisle.
There was much debate over how Carlisle should respond. Selectman Tim Hult spoke about a problem with "basic fairness" when the high school budget is increasing by about 7% while Carlisle town employees are threatened with a total wage freeze. Some audience members favored forcing a joint town meeting with Concord to "send a message" to union negotiators for the high school teachers that fiscal restraint is needed. Others feared a joint town meeting, where Carlisle voters would be outnumbered by about three to one.
Town Employee Wage and Classification Plan
Selectman Carol Peters was one of many who spoke of the need to raise salaries for town employees. A wage and classification study completed in 2001 had demonstrated that Carlisle employees were underpaid when compared to both nearby and similar towns. The resulting plan to beef up employee wages was to be implemented over a three-year period, beginning with the coming fiscal year. However, the balanced budget passed by voters does not even cover cost-of-living pay raises.
Not one person in the meeting spoke against the wage and classification plan. Kate Reid, of the planning board, suggested that town departments try to cut other expenses in order to provide at least a 2.5% increase for wages.
Ballantine summarized the budget situation. The town would need to spend an additional $136,500 to fund the wage and classification targets, and will need between $91,000 and $138,000 to fund the regional high school. The Carlisle School Committee (CSC) had voted to not request additional money. With revenue estimates increased by $150,000, there is still a short-fall.
Many in the audience felt strongly that Carlisle should not have another override vote. Larry Bearfield, chairman of the Carlisle Committee for Tax Fairness said, "The voters made a choice," and the town should honor that choice. Steve Kendall of Cross Street said "I urge you to let the vote stand." Signs printed with the slogan "NO means NO" had been distributed at the door, and many in the audience raised them to protest any mention of another override.
Recent candidate for the school committee, Christy Barbee, said "I'd like to see this kind of rancor stop....Tax fairness means balancing the needs of the whole community. The challenge to those who voted no, should be not to hijack an election..." She was interrupted by shouts and selectman Ballantine gavelled the meeting back to order.
Others spoke in favor of a new override vote, as long as the new choice were lower than those previously rejected by voters. Eric Darling of West Street said the selectmen should give the voters an option to make good on the obligations to both the town employees and the regional high school.
The selectmen decided to go ahead with an override, and then debated whether to offer voters one or two override levels. Finance committee member Simon Platt said, "Let's keep it simple," and offer only one override, for the $91,000 lower funding level for the high school. Both higher and lower amounts were considered.
The board voted to call a Special Town Meeting on Monday June 17 (See "Proposed Timetable" on page 5) and drafted two Warrant articles asking the town to appropriate and/or transfer sufficient sums (amounts to be specified in the motion at the Town Meeting) for the following:
Article 1: To fund wage and salary increases for town employees (requiring approximately $136,000);
Article 2: To fund the high school at the "Concord FinCom level" (requiring an additional $91,000 from Carlisle).
Article 1 will be funded by the higher than expected town revenues. The $91,000 for CCHS in Article 2 will be funded partially through increased revenues (about $16,000) and through an override of $75,000. The override will have to be approved at new town election the week following the Town Meeting.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito