Friday, March 5, 2004
FinCom getting down to final budget strokes Free cash higher than expected, but no decisions how to spend it
On February 25, the Finance Committee (FinCom) met with several groups as it worked its way toward finalizing its fiscal year 2005 (FY05) budget recommendations.
The FinCom had asked each town unit to prepare a "guideline budget," which in aggregate would produce a town budget that was within the Proposition 2-1/2 limits on annual property tax increase. In addition, groups were invited to present a "level services budget" and a "growth budget" which might be funded if the need were great and the funds were available.
Assessor sees more fee opportunities
Principal Assessor John Speidel was up first and reviewed the Board of Assessors' budget. The guideline budget at $86,732 was 9% below the prior year's and the level services budget was $88,732, 7% below FY04. There was little discussion and the committee seemed comfortable with the level-services budget, with the major difference between the two being map price increases.
The FinCom next reviewed fee opportunities. It was agreed that additional fees, e.g., $20 for an abutters list, were competitive with other towns and a good idea. Speidel agreed to recommend it to the Board of Selectmen.
Next, the committee revisited estimated new real estate growth for the following year. Speidel recommended that his original estimate of $17 million remain in place. This increase came from several sources as follows: 7 new homes ($3.5 million), 11 houses completed ($3.8 million), 10 new lots ($5.0 million), and additions/renovations ($5.0 million).
Minuteman High School struggles with transportation cuts
Ronald Fitzgerald, superintendent of Minuteman Regional High School, and Nancy Weiss, Carlisle representative to Minuteman Regional High School Committee, presented an update to FinCom. They emphasized that final state figures were still not in, but wanted to get back with updated figures. Overall, Carlisle's assessment is up 25% to $149,000, reflecting a 17% increase in enrollment plus special education costs.
Minuteman's overall budget, at $7.4 million, is $91,000 below FY04. This is caused principally by the state's underfunding of transportation costs. When regional schools were established, the state, to encourage participation, "agreed to fund 100% of transportation costs, but has deliberately cut support to 34%," said Fitzgerald. As a result, the school has had to sell property to help offset the support reductions.
Weiss closed the Minuteman meeting discussion by suggesting that Minuteman classes represented a valuable hands-on supplemental alternative for CCHS students, and encouraged broader exposure of Minuteman capabilities to eighth-grade students. The FinCom agreed.
Long Term Caps seeks
Peter Chelton, chair of the Long Term Capital Requirements Committee (LTCRC) and LTCRC member Lenny Johnson presented their FY05 budget.
The guideline budget expenditures totaled $140,000, and included funds for the following: fire station repairs and protective clothing ($15,800); Carlisle Public School (CPS) industrial dehumidifiers ($5,500) to help reduce occurrence of mold-related damage as occurred last summer; and 20 computers, 1 Smart Board, and 2 InFocus projectors for $25,000. For the Police, $26,000 for a new cruiser, $5,000 for weapons and radar equipment, and $18,000 for radio receivers that will allow hand-held radios to communicate with dispatch while out of vehicles. For the Department of Public Works, $30,000 for a pickup truck to replace a 1992 pickup. Finally, for Town Hall, $15,000 for HVAC repairs that will fix malfunctioning and inconsistent heating and cooling.
An additional $130,000 was identified as very desirable if additional funds were available above the levy limit. These expenditures included: $25,000 to replace CPS cafeteria furniture which is 17 years old; $53,000 for the Town Treasurer to acquire new software for tax billing and collection; and $25,000 for Town Hall for replacement of second-floor carpeting.
Expenditures not recommended included $33,000 for a CPS pickup. Instead, LTCRC recommended that a fleet vehicle from the DPW be transferred to the schools, while still being available to the DPW for conditions such as snow emergencies. Also not recommended, a $5,000 request from the Police for a perimeter fence due to the low priority assigned to it by the Police, combined with more pressing needs in other departments.
Deferred items included $30,000 for a Fire Department communication cable and a library request to replace 21 of its 23 computers. With the Fire Department, LTCRC was generally supportive of the request; however, it wanted to determine if underground conduits were available in the town center to run the cable, thus reducing the installation cost. LTCRC deferred the library request since library consortium members were having difficulty in obtaining necessary hardware upgrades, and recommended a three-year cycle rather than replacing all of the machines at one time.
Finally, $20,000 for the Greenough House renovations sought by the Conservation Commission was referred to Community Preservation Act Committee, for possible funding as historical preservation, or to possible federal funds/grants.
Free cash is $162K higher
Town Treasurer Larry Barton joined the meeting to review revenue and cost assumptions. First, he updated FinCom on the town's free cash certification, which came in at $577,000, $162,000 more favorable than the expected $415,000. Barton was the bearer of additional good news, indicating that the interest cost assumptions will likely be favorable by $19,000 versus earlier budget assumptions.
FinCom chair Lisa Jensen-Fellows next led a discussion of possible allocation of the additional free cash. First, the FinCom allocated $150,000 to the town's stabilization fund, to restore it to the targeted 5% of the total town budget; $75,000 to previously identified needs; and a $190,000 holdback (1% of total town budget) for contingencies. This left $162,000 to support the $330,000 of desirable, but over guideline, spending needs. These needs were identified throughout the budget review process. The largest of these was $160,000 for CCHS, but other needs, like additional library hours, police training, etc., were also considered worthy of support. No final decisions were made.
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