Friday, February 28, 2003
FinCom members reveal divergent views
A special meeting of the Carlisle Finance Committee held on February 24 provided insight into the priorities and concerns of each committee member. Throughout January and February the committee heard presentations from all town departments regarding cuts that would have to be made to meet the FinCom's preliminary guideline for next year's (FY04) budget • a budget that would not exceed the Proposition 2-1/2 levy limit and would not require an override. In total, $634,313 had been requested by town departments over the guideline, including a $530,000 request from the high school. The Concord Finance Committee is supporting a level for the high school that would require an additional $189,000 from Carlisle. The Carlisle FinCom is considering funding this level in order to avoid a protracted budget process for resolving a Concord-Carlisle mismatch.
FinCom member Tony Allison provided a straw proposal which became a reference point. The Allison proposal looked at sources of revenue or cost reductions unknown or overlooked when the guideline was first agreed on. For example, the increase in group and blanket insurance cost, planned to be 20%, is now expected to be "only" 15%, adding $31,000 to the plus side. New real estate growth may be $2 million more than expected earlier, adding another $30,000. Warrant articles are currently expected to require $134,000 less than what was set aside.
Allison also reduced some amounts he felt were over-funded. He suggested reducing the reserve fund (for unforeseen emergencies) by $50,000, the overlay account (for unexpected real estate assessment reductions) by $10,000, and the set-aside for interest fees by $20,000. He also noted that $35,000 approved for a cistern project that never happened could be applied to the budget with the approval of Town Meeting.
In preparation for a meeting with the selectmen, and armed with the updated information, chair Larry Barton went around the table and asked for each members' priorities if some budget items and services could be restored without overrides. The following are some quotations from that meeting.
"Based on my assumptions and with $50,000 from free cash, I think we have $355,000 we could spread around... To cut the high school below the Concord FinCom level [$189,000] is too hard... They [the high school] are asking for $530,000. Below $189,000 they can't fund the school properly."
"My top priority is Minuteman [High School], we have to pay that. The police are high priority, then general government, then the local school. The high school is at the bottom . . A lot of people in town have the same priorities I do. . .If Concord votes more [than Carlisle] the [regional] school committee will just force it down our throats . . .Keep $125,000 in the reserve fund and free cash should not be touched . . No one seems concerned about the taxpayer's desire and ability to pay."
"The local school needs are greater. We need to keep pressure on the high school regarding the teachers' contract . . We should force some part of the [high school] budget onto an override. . .[The high school] would not have to cut athletics if they charge fees. That's a choice they make. . .They can adjust the teachers contract or cut administration . . .The CPS felt they took it on the chin last year. They will feel hard done by if they're hung out on an override."
It makes sense to match the Concord FinCom, but this is not a good amount. It's way too low for the high school. . .The high school's request is reasonable. Fixed costs are up, state aid is down, SPED costs are rising, and enrollment is up. . . The teachers' contract is very competitive with other comparable schools in the area. . . . If the school committee asked Concord to meet our level, would you call that 'forcing it down their throats?'. . We contribute to a perception problem [regarding CCHS teachers contracts] by fostering untrue statements. There's no practical difference [compared to Lincoln-Sudbury High School]. . . The only response to rising costs is to ask for more money. . .They've done a wonderful job there and we have a wonderful school."
"Having the Concord FinCom guideline [for the high school] within our levy limit reflects the reality of the environment. Otherwise it protracts the process and we end up there anyway. . . But I also think the voter ought to have a chance [to vote on an amount for the high school]. . . We should be prepared to pay what we did last year, plus some increase. How can we say [to the high school] that any increase requires an override? "
Larry Barton, chair
"The $189,000 [Concord FinCom guideline] for the high school was picked out of the air . . . I realistically believe the high school needs more to maintain service. . . I don't want to split the baby and have a whole bunch of mismatches [with Concord]. . . With some assumptions, it looks like we can fund most departments at level service, have $189,000 for the high school, and some amount of the $100,000 requested by the Carlisle School [without an override]. . .There probably should be more public dialogue. We should expose our positions more. . . With the stabilization fund above $800,000 our bond rating is in good shape."
FinCom member Simon Platt was absent. He has rarely attended this year's meetings.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito