Friday, April 11, 2003
FinCom supports Warrant Articles, but not unanimously
What a difference a year makes. Last year Town Meeting participants were confronted by school budget increases of 9-10%, as well as large overrides. This year, Carlisle will have a significant decline in total (direct and indirect) state aid, yet Carlisle's operating budgets are largely within the Proposition 2-1/2 limit. The only override on the Warrant is for funding additional operating expenses for Concord-Carlisle High School. Staying as close as possible to the levy limit in FY04 has been the mission of the Carlisle Finance Committee.
There are 29 articles on the Warrant for the Spring Town Meeting beginning Monday, May 5. Article 3, "Town Operating Budgets," consumed the majority of the FinCom's review and approval time. FY04 operating expenses are budgeted in the amount of $19,050,940, a 5.7% increase from FY03 (see table). Early in the budget cycle, the FinCom established funding targets of 2.6% for education and 1.5% for town departments (not including mandated or uncontrollable expenses, such as group insurance and county retirement plans) in order to develop a levy limit (no override) budget. Because budget discipline was maintained throughout the year-long review process, operating budget amounts are largely within the FinCom guidelines. Consequently, in reviewing the final draft of the Warrant on April 2, there were no significant objections from any FinCom member to any of the department budgets.
Article 5. Override for CCHS
The Regional School Committee (RSC) initially requested a 9.35% increase over the current year budget. Several joint meetings between the Carlisle and Concord Selectmen, the respective Finance Committees, and the RSC were held throughout the year in an attempt to agree on a single budget number. The Carlisle FinCom signaled early in the budget process that it would support the Concord FinCom's recommended override. This override would provide for a reduction in services, and would result in a total budget of $4, 278,555, a 3.6% increase over the current year. Carlisle's share of the CCHS budget required an override of $189,429, which became Warrant Article 5. The FinCom voted six to one to recommend approval of the article.
Articles 4, 14. "Rainy day" funds
Article 4, Stabilization Account Transfer, and Article 14, Free Cash Transfer, are used to help fund operating expenses and minimize tax increases. The stabilization fund and free cash represent unspent revenues in earlier, "good" years. These funds are important in helping Carlisle achieve an attractive borrowing rate for capital projects, and to provide for funding in "bad" years. The FinCom recommended using $32,066 in a stabilization fund transfer, and $95, 569 in a free cash transfer to ensure a balanced FY04 budget. Last year Carlisle's budget called for $33,097 and $228,143 in stabilization and free cash funding, respectively. Again, the ability of town departments and committees to meet the FinCom guidelines enables Carlisle to be conservative in maintaining its overall financial position.
Article 13. High school parking
In addition to the town budget, the Warrant includes a number of potentially controversial articles. Article 13 requests approximately $8,500 from Carlisle (to add to the $21,500 requested from Concord) in capital funds for an expanded student parking lot at CCHS.
The Regional School Committee will move this article at the Concord Town Meeting. The Concord FinCom supports the article, but the Concord Selectmen voted 3 to 2 to oppose it. The Selectmen would like the RSC to raise the funds via student parking fees.
The Carlisle FinCom voted five to one to recommend passage of this article. FinCom member Dave Trask opposed this measure because it is a non-educational expense, and he believes the current parking lot is adequate. Given the funds committed to the bus contract, he is not convinced that students need to drive to school. FinCom member Simon Platt, arguing in support of passing the article, noted that the Concord Police support this article due to parking concerns in Concord, and that $8,500 will not have a material effect on the education budget. He believes also that current students should not be required to fund long-term capital plans using current year fees.
Article 17. Footpaths
Article 17, requesting $150,000 in capital for the partial construction of town footpaths, is likely to provoke some discussion at Town Meeting. This article, which if approved will also become a ballot question, received a 4 to 2 (with one recusal) vote recommending approval. Dave Trask and Tony Allison opposed the measure, having argued in a prior meeting that the plan is overly ambitious and not in line with town priorities. The majority of the FinCom were comfortable with spending discipline under the control of the Selectmen, and a commitment that the FinCom would be consulted on funding. FinCom member Deb Belanger, head of the Pedestrian/Bike Safety Advisory Committee that prepared the town footpath plan, recused herself from the vote.
Article 23, Recreational Camp Fees
Article 23, Recreational Camp Fees, proposes charging $50 for new camp licenses (and $10 for renewals) to fund the required Board of Health inspection costs. Simon Platt opposed this motion because he thought the fees were an unnecessary administrative burden to the camps and unlikely to generate significant revenues for the town. Platt's opposition led to a broader discussion on the concept of user fees. The initial vote on recommending this article was 3 in favor, 2 opposed, and 2 abstentions. After recognizing that this would result in a "No" recommendation since a majority of the FinCom members present was not in favor of passage, a motion to reconsider was introduced and passed. The FinCom finally agreed that they would take no motion on this article.
Article 15, CPA Authorization
The FinCom decided that they did not have enough information to take action on Article 15, CPA Authorization, at this time. They will make a recommendation prior to Town Meeting. The State requires that the town set aside 10% of the Community Preservation Act funds for historic preservation, 10% for open space, and 10% for affordable housing. Authorization for spending the remaining 70% of the CPA funds must be approved by Town Meeting. The Carlisle Community Preservation Committee Article 15 will make a recommendation, under Article 15, on how to spend CPA funds.
The other articles on the Warrant did not generate significant discussion because they either do not pertain to the FinCom, since there is no financial impact on the town from passage of the article, or the requested amounts are so small as to be relatively unimportant to the total budget (such as salaries of $50 for some elected officials).
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