Friday, April 23, 2004
FinCom anticipates budget contingencies
On April 14, a damp rainy evening, the Finance Committee (FinCom) met at Town Hall to prepare for a final review of budgets and to assess opportunities for improving the budget review process. Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie and Town Treasurer and Tax Collector Larry Barton joined them.
Possible FinCom vacancy
First up were some administrative matters. After calling the meeting to order, FinCom Chair Lisa Jenson-Fellows asked for a volunteer to represent FinCom in what is expected to be a series of meetings involving the Town Hall's heating/cooling system (HVAC) which is in need of repair (See page 1). Member Dave Trask stepped up to the task.
Next, Jenson-Fellows addressed the possible loss to the committee of FinCom member Deb Belanger who is running for the Board of Selectman. Jenson-Fellows wanted to ensure a full seven-member FinCom, particularly should the CCHS budget becomes an issue with Concord. All members said they were planning to "re-up" or finish their terms, which meant that only one opening needed to be filled. The timing over when this position could officially be advertised needed to be addressed with the Board of Selectmen.
Reserve fund will meet overruns
The first issue involved assessing the adequacy of the reserve fund, which stands at $102,000. This fund is meant to cover unanticipated expenditures over and above budgeted items. McKenzie walked FinCom members through a list of projected overrun items that, coincidently, totaled $102,000.
The major item was legal expenses, which would be $50-$55,000 over budget. This was related primarily to litigation involving cell tower sites (See page 1). Also starting to emerge here were legal costs associated with 40B affordable housing applications, specifically the Carlisle Woods project off Maple Street. Jenson-Fellows opined, "40B may be the town's next cell phone tower issue."
The next largest item was the Police Department budget. Sick pay and overtime were projected to create a $20-$25,000 overrun. Other items rounding out the list included the Town Hall HVAC diagnostic work and other items ($10-$15,000), and the Communi-cations budget ($7,000). The committee noted that this was a "tight" reserve fund.
Easing the concern, however, Barton presented budget line item "upsides" that provided additional cushion for contingencies. These included $32,000 in lower short-term interest expense, and a $10,000 insurance upside — i.e., costs lower than budgeted. Based upon these upsides, and the fact that the Town is allowed to shift line items to cover budget overruns, FinCom deemed that the reserve fund was adequate.
Better budget management
While pleased about the adequacy of the reserve fund, FinCom member Ray Wilkes questioned why some items, like the Police Department, came in over budget at the eleventh hour. "I'm accustomed to seeing department heads manage within their budget," said Wilkes.
McKenzie and others explained the particular circumstances that led to the police overage, but the point of having accountability and an expectation that department heads will manage within budget was made. However, committee members acknowledged that historically financial information was not available to department heads on a timely basis, which made it difficult to manage a budget.
© 2004 The