Friday, March 14, 2003
Concord and Carlisle Selectmen confer on overrides
Can Concord and Carlisle avoid the protracted budget process that required an additional Carlisle Town Meeting and election last year? In an attempt to minimize the possibility of a disconnect between budgets for the shared regional high school, the boards of selectmen for the two towns met on Monday, March 10, to compare notes on potential override levels. By presenting to voters in each town overrides that provide matching levels of funding for the high school, it is hoped agreement can be reached without additional town meetings and elections.
The regional agreement requires the two towns to contribute to the Concord-Carlisle High School at a consistent level according to each town's porportion of students. Voters of the two towns must arrive at a budget level at their respective Town Meetings and elections. If the levels do not agree, a process for resolution kicks in that may eventually result in a joint Concord/Carlisle Town Meeting. This would engender additional costs to both towns, and many feel if it came to a joint meeting, acceptance of the Concord level would be a forgone conclusion given that town's much larger voter population.
High school lowers budget requests
Regional School Committee (RSC) chair Betsy Bilodeau presented an update on the high school budget. Armed with information the high school will receive some grants and other moneys they had not planned on, the RSC last weekend agreed to lower their budget request for the high school by $564,141 to $16,485,424, a 5.71% increase over FY03. Because the original budget was very conservative, cuts in state funding were able to be managed within this budget.
The RSC also defined a budget level $275,546 below this of $16,209,878, a 3.94% increase over FY03. At this lower level, support and technical staff would be reduced, MCAS remediation would be cut, and a bus purchase would be deferred. Bilodeau characterized this lower level as one "we could live with, but it starts us down a path of below-level service." She noted the lower level request is only $73,000 above the Concord FinCom's recommended budget for the high school of $16,136,558.
Override levels proposed
Concord FinCom chair Arnold Roth and Carlisle Selectman Doug Stevenson presented the high school budget at the levy limit (if no override passes) and the override levels at the Concord FinCom, RSC-reduced, and RSC-approved levels. To match these three override levels, Carlisle would require overrides of $189,000, $210,332, and $309,794. This does not include the $65,000 the Carlisle FinCom hopes to add on for items that would otherwise be cut from Carlisle School and town budgets.
Stevenson noted Carlisle is willing to match Concord on a levy-limit budget. He asked that the Concord FinCom and RSC compromise on a first-tier override, as their numbers are very close. A second tier would then offer funding for the RSC-approved request. He endorsed coordinating override levels between the two towns at these two tiers.
Arnold objected that the Concord FinCom has not reached agreement on any of these levels. However, the Concord selectmen seemed on board with Stevenson's recommendation, with Selectman Margaret Briggs noting "agreement is congealing around these numbers."
Proposal adds monkey wrench
Quasi-agreement seemed to have been reached until Concord Selectman Richmond Edes threw in another proposal. Since the gap between the levy limit and Concord FinCom-proposed override is great, he suggested an intermediate level might be needed. Roth had previously offered that the Concord FinCom-recommended budget would require a 9.91% increase in taxes for Concord, and there was some fear that even this lowest-tier override would not pass. Agreed Margaret Briggs, "I would like to see a fall-back position. It would be horrific if we don't pass any override."
Bilodeau of the RSC was quick to respond, "Three levels is not a good thing. This decreases the chance of a match." She said a level below the lowest proposed by the RSC would mean "a significant loss of services that will directly impact kids." She echoed a point previously made by Stevenson and Carlisle Selectman Tim Hult that whatever levels are offered, the selectmen and FinComs should "get behind a number" and encourage voters to pass that level, increasing the chances for success. Answered Edes, "So when you say 'let the voters decide,' you mean within limits." Responded Bilodeau, "I guess what I'm saying is I'm looking for leadership."
Concord Selectmen chair Gary Clayton summarized the pros and cons of the Edes proposal as "choice" versus "a greater chance for a mismatch." Apparently caught offguard by this late-in-the-process proposal, the Carlisle Selectmen passed on making any pronouncement. Unspoken was the possibility that splitting the override vote among three tiers could reduce the probability of any level's passing, an outcome contrary to the intent.
Carlisle needs Concord decision
Roth was reminded by Clayton that the Concord FinCom needs to nail down its override proposals at their meeting Thursday, March 13, if Carlisle is to dovetail. Carlisle officials need to make a decision on override levels by Tuesday, March 18, in order for the ballot process to be completed in time for town elections May 13. Carlisle FinCom chair Larry Barton from the audience noted, "We would like to provide synergy with Concord, but we are running out of time."
If all goes as planned, the Concord FinCom will make its override decisions this week. The Carlisle FinCom will meet over the weekend to discuss the outcome and to propose Carlisle's override levels. The Concord Selectmen will vote on Monday, March 17, and the Carlisle Selectmen will finalize override levels on Tuesday, March 18.
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