Friday, March 12, 2004
Selectmen applaud FinCom budget efforts
At a joint meeting of the Selectmen and Finance Committee (FinCom) on March 3, Selectmen Chair Tim Hult called for a review of the town budget for the next fiscal year (FY05), in preparation for the Annual Town Meeting on May 3.
In an upbeat presentation, FinCom Chair Lisa Jensen-Fellows reported that the town will be able to stay within the levy limit by starting with "guideline budgets" prepared by town boards and departments, then adding an additional $200,000 from free cash for identified priority operating expenditures, which essentially brings most departments to their "level services budgets." At the same time, the town can accept all recommended long-term capital spending and bring the town's stabilization fund up to 5% of the town budget, which helps the town's bond rating. The Selectmen were unanimously impressed, and jokingly offered Jensen-Fellows "FinCom Chair for life."
They noted that this is really a credit to all budget participants. In a very tight economic environment, characterized by reduced real estate growth and reduced state aid, the town has been able to maintain essentially level service budget expenditures, make needed capital improvements, and improve its bond position while holding the tax increase below 2%.
Jensen-Fellows went on to offer full coverage of all identified priority spending items (level services) with a $120,000 override, a position that was rejected by the Selectmen. "The town taxpayers need a break," said Selectman Vivian Chaput. Stevenson quickly seconded the thought.
Among budget action items addressed by the Selectmen, most of the discussion centered on how to best correct an error with regard to what town employees contribute for health benefits. Due to an administrative error, a number of employees were contributing at a rate below the agreed upon 50%. Concerned that correcting this would be viewed as a take-away, a discussion ensued about providing all employees some "give-back," e.g., a one-time bonus. Rather than introduce new inequities, however, it was decided that the error should be addressed immediately with all employees contributing at the agreed upon 50%.
The impact on the budget of this correction was a favorable cost reduction of $37,000. This in turn was added to the funds available (now $253,000) to cover the $317,097 in prioritized expenditures across various department and school budgets identified by FinCom during the months of budget reviews. The Selectmen agreed with the prioritized list, the largest item of which was $156,559 for the high school.
From this same list, other departmental budgets would be restored to level services amounts with these additional funds. Not receiving funds in this first cut were the EMT stipend requested by the Fire Department and Sunday hours requested by the library. Both these programs were regarded as "new" versus level services and, therefore, received a lower priority. The Selectmen were disposed to support these if additional funds became available.
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