Friday, December 17, 2004
FinCom sets FY06 budget guideline
It will be another tight year with the Carlisle Finance Committee (FinCom) recommending very small operating increases of 1.5% in their final guideline budget presented Monday, December 13. "Where is the fat?" wondered Financial Director Larry Barton, expressing the concern of many that after several years of very small increases there is no place left to cut without impacting programs. Previously, the Carlisle Board of Selectmen had approved a 3% salary increase for all town employees. In order to incorporate that increase into the balanced budget, operating increases were held to 1.5% for most departments.
An exception to the 1.5% rule was made for the Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) budget. The Concord FinCom had previously approved a levy limit guideline budget for the high school consistent with a 5.89% increase for Carlisle. The regional agreement requires the two towns to approve consistent levels of funding for the high school or face a protracted process for resolving the discrepancy. Carlisle's increase is higher than Concord's due to a rising ratio of Carlisle to Concord students.
The other two schools were provided with guidelines of 2.7% for the Carlisle Public School (CPS) and 2.4% for Minuteman Technical High School. These guidelines are consistent with the 3% salary, 1.5% operating increases provided to other town departments.
Thornton Ash proposed that one way to approach the budget is to think of cutting out services rather than spreading the cuts "like peanut butter." He noted that when he joined the FinCom two years ago he had hoped to find places where waste could be eliminated, but soon concluded that "accepting fairness in salaries as a high priority. . . We're down to cutting $500 line items." Ray Wilkes and Jim Fitsimmons echoed this point of view, with Wilkes noting, "The only way to cut down [school expenses] a lot is to figure out how to regionalize with Concord [on the elementary level]."
In the absence of this or some other creative solution, departments will be asked to prepare budgets with no more than a 1.5% increase. The FinCom guideline begins the process of determining a town budget to be recommended at Spring Town Meeting in May. Once it reviews departmental budgets based on the balanced town budget with no overrides, the FinCom can look at unmet needs and determine if one or more overrides should be recommended. According to state law, property taxes can increase no more than 2-1/2% unless an override is approved at Town Meeting and Town Elections. Budget hearings will begin on January 10.
© 2004 The