Friday, June 21, 2002
Town Meeting funds high school and salaries Joint Town Meeting is cancelled
At a Special Town Meeting on Monday June 17, a sizeable crowd of 453 citizens showed remarkable unanimity, passing two budget articles by a wide margins. Citizens increased the FY03 appropriation for town departments, providing small salary increases for non-school town employees, and funded the Concord-Carlisle High School budget at the level approved by Concord.
The Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) proposed an amendment to Article 2 which made funding the CCHS assessment not dependent on passage of an override. While this action made a joint Concord-Carlisle Town meeting unnecessary at this time, it created a $75,000 deficit in the FY03 budget which will have to be made up by increased taxes or by cuts in town services. An override election, asking Carlisle voters to allow an additional $75,000 in local taxes, is scheduled for next Wednesday, June 26.
More money for departments
Voters overwhelmingly passed Article 1, which enabled the town to raise an additional $101,614 from taxes and general revenues of the town, and to transfer $53,496 from available funds to defray departmental expenses of the town during fiscal year 2003.
John Ballantine, chairman of the Carlisle Board of Selectmen, presented the motion, which was supported unanimously by the selectmen, as well as by a majority of the finance committee.
There was not much discussion of this article. One question posed was how a failure of the upcoming override would affect the money allocated under Article 1. Cuts totaling $75,000 would be needed to balance the budget if the override fails. Ballantine said the cuts would not be in exactly the same areas as the Article 1 allocations. Without giving many details, he said cuts would eliminate one employee at the DPW, trim police over-time, and reduce the fire department, library and planning board budgets. (See "Override needed to preserve town services" on this page) Larry Bearfield, chairman of the Carlisle Committee on Tax Fairness (CCTF), spoke in support of the Article. Last month the CCTF had campaigned successfully to defeat all overrides of Proposition 2-1/2.
The fund transfers were specified as follows: First, $21,259 was transferred to the police department from three sources: $12,805 from Article 13 of the Annual Town Meeting on May 6, 2002 (money set aside for the superfund settle ment); $5,311 from Article 18 of the Annual Town Meeting held May 6, 1997 (funds for water quality study), and $3,143 transferred from the town's free cash.
Second, $13,727 was transferred to the Department of Public Works from Article 18 of the Annual Town Meeting held May 4, 1999 (funds left over from the O'Rourke water supply study).
And third, $18,510 was transferred to the operating budget of the Carlisle Public Schools from Article 7 of the Annual Town Meeting held this May. Article 7 had allocated money for the school to purchase new computers, but this purchase has been postponed.
Amended Article 2:
Funding CCHS first
Article 2 stated that the high school would be funded as follows: $50,000 from anticipated revenues and $75,000 from increased taxes, which would have to be approved in the override election on June 26. However, Mike Fitzgerald, vice chair of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC), presented an amendment deleting language which made funding of the Carlisle assessment for the high school contingent on passage of the $75,000 override; the amended motion funded the high school without an override.
In noting the advantages of the amendment, Fitzgerald pointed out the need to resolve the high school budget issues before the new fiscal year begins July 1. In addition, the potential for a joint Town Meeting would have meant a "$10,000 to $15,000 unrecoverable cost" for setting up equipment at the high school, money that would not have been saved if the override passed the election since the results would have come in too late to cancel contracts. Fitzgerald also called the possiblity of a joint Town Meeting "costly and divisive, and not in the long-term interests of the region."
The selectmen opposed the amendment. John Ballantine expressed the view that short-circuiting the process could leave voters frustrated, "A structure is in place. If the town does not fund the high school override, it is clear the voters of Carlisle will want to discuss that (at a joint Town Meeting), even if we don't win in the end." The FinCom, represented by Tony Allison, supported the anmendment, "to avoid the expenses of a joint Town Meeting."
Discussion from the floor examined many pros and cons to the amendment (see quotations below). Ralph Anderson for the override (which reads "for the purpose of providing additional operating funds for the Concord Carlisle Regional School District.") would now be confusing. "If the purpose is obviated, that vote is a sham," said Anderson.
Deb Belanger feared the amendment would reduce support for the override, "If we take the amendment, be prepared to have town budgets cut." Muggsie Rocco, however, saw the amendment as getting to the heart of the matter, "Whether to cut town departments is the real issue," she said, noting the high school budget is probably set regardless of the outcome of the election.
The discussion grew heated when Selectman Doug Stevens took issue with several contentions of the RSC. Noting the Concord override passed by only 53%, he called passage of the high school budget at a joint town meeting, "not a foregone conclusion." He characterized the suggestion the Carlisle Board of Selectmen is costing the RSC $10,000 for the joint Town Meeting "utter nonsense," since it was not necessary to schedule the meeting so soon after the election. He called it "very discouraging that the FinCom would support going forward with an unbalanced budget. It sets a bad precedent." In summary, he called the amendment "an aggressive subversion of the process by the regional school committee."
Allison responded "the Fincom respectfully disagrees with how the selectmen structured the ballot," in a way which "inserted salary (increases for townspeople) ahead of the high school." Betsy Bilideau, chair of the RSC, defended the date for the JTM, noting that if the budget weren't resolved by July 1 there would be more difficulties in a process "which has been highly disruptive." She added, "Let's get this chapter behind us."
The amendment carried by a majority, and Article 2 passed with only light opposition.
A quorum of RSC members were present and immediately voted to cancel the joint Town Meeting, that had been scheduled for next Thursday, June 27.
Motion to raid stabilization fund fails
The selectmen did not move Articles 3 and 4, dealing with transfers from the town's stabilization fund. However, former RSC chair Cindy Nock made a motion from the floor to transfer $75,000 from the stabilization fund to cover the newly-approved appropriations. This, Nock argued, would fully fund the entire FY03 budget without leaving the town dependent on passage of a $75,000 override of Proposition-2 1/2. The stabilization fund, she said, will be over $1 million once the sale of the town-owned Carriage Way lot is completed. Both the board of selectmen and the finance committee weighed in against this motion, explaining that the purpose of this fund was for one-time capital projects, such as new buildings or land purchases, rather than to cover the town's normal operating expenses. The motion failed by a wide margin.
Override vote needed to balance the budget
By defeating the motion under Article 4 a temporary budget deficit was created. This deficit will be eliminated if the town passes the $75,000 budget override election to be held next week. If the override fails, then the selectmen will need to call yet another Special Town Meeting to authorize budget cuts to rebalance the budget.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito