Friday, September 27, 2002
Concord and Carlisle pledge greater budget cooperation
The tone was cordial when two dozen members of Concord and Carlisle's town governments met at the high school library September 19 to discuss ways to improve cooperation in budgeting for the shared regional high school. No one wanted a repeat of last year, when disagreement almost led to an unprecedented Joint Special Town Meeting. Attending were selectmen, finance committee (FinCom) members, Concord's town manager and town moderator, and members of the Regional School Committee (RSC).
To begin the meeting, finance committee members from Carlisle and Concord presented budget forecasts for fiscal year 2004 (FY04). Possible overrides were predicted for both towns, and coordination and scheduling difficulties were discussed. The meeting ended with a call by Concord's town moderator Ned Perry for Concord and Carlisle to improve cooperation "for the benefit of our schools and communities."
Calculations for FY04 showed that Concord voters may soon face larger tax increases. To support an additional 5% in spending over their baseline budget (which includes a 2.7% budget increase over FY03), Concord would face an increase in taxes of about 9.2%. This would follow an expected tax increase of 7.6% in FY03.
Back in FY01, the regional high school accounted for about 16% of Carlisle's total expenses, but in FY03 the high school costs had risen to 21% of Carlisle's total budget of $18 million. Concord's portion of the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School budget was $8.8 million in FY03, or about 17% of their total budget of $52 million.
Carlisle selectman Tim Hult described the difficulty in dividing limited tax revenues among many competing needs. "We all know there's going to be pain." He said that the high school budget was difficult for Carlisle, "because it is out of our control.If it is out of whack with the rest of our budget, the other two parts [town departments and the local school] will have to take a hit."
It was generally expected that the high school would require more funds than could be provided without overrides by the two towns.
Betsy Bilodeau, chair of the regional school committee, made two main points. She said it was important that any tiered overrides presented to Carlisle and Concord voters should have equivalent funding levels for the high school. (This did not happen last year.) Also, Bilodeau stressed the importance of contingency planning, so the towns will understand the logistics of coping with any failed overrides.
Carlisle FinCom member Deb Belanger suggested joint working sessions for the two FinComs during the coming year. Concord's chair of selectmen Gary Clayton suggested joint meetings for FinCom subcommittees.
Carlisle FinCom chair Larry Barton said that he had met informally with his Concord counterpart, and they had agreed to "make themselves available," but were not prepared this year to formalize a liaison process that generated yet more meetings.
Clayton then reiterated that as annual Town Meetings near, it would be useful if occasional meetings were set up between the chairs of the FinComs, school committees and selectmen of the two towns.
Given the dates of Spring Town Meetings in the two towns, there is little time before the end of the fiscal year in which to schedule additional special town meetings, elections, and a possible joint town meeting, to resolve any funding disparity. So far, the following dates have been set: April 28, for Concord's annual Town Meeting, with May 7 as a continuation date, if needed. Carlisle's annual Town Meeting is scheduled for May 5, with Carlisle's town elections on May 13. It was suggested that the two towns hold June 18
Greater cooperation sought
Concord town moderator Ned Perry criticized the tight schedule as "indicative of a group that doesn't focus on consensus." He pointed out that regionalized school systems have been common in Massachusetts for decades, yet rarely (if ever) have Joint Town Meetings been needed to force towns to fund them. He said this means other towns are doing a better job of consensus building.
Summarizing, Concord's Gary Clayton said that an informal connection has been established between the two FinComs. He repeated his hope that more formal meetings of the relevant committee chairs will take place, and that everyone will "strive for consensus."
League to sponsor forum
At the close of the meeting, a member of the Concord-Carlisle League of Women Voters announced that the League will sponsor a public forum on joint budget planning between the two towns, scheduled for November 29.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito