Friday, February 4, 2005
$263K over guideline and counting
As the Carlisle Finance Committee continues to plow through the departmental, committee and commission requests in preparation for the Fiscal Year 2006 budget, it is clear that the needs of a growing town are going to challenge the normally frugal budget guidelines. A growing middle school, a new police contract, increased hours for the Town Clerk and a two-person co-recreation director position have all contributed to a funding request that is more than $200,000 above the FinCom guideline simply to provide "level service."
Although the final tally won't be known until the FinCom completes its hearings in late February, committee chair David Trask estimates that the total "level service" budget the amount requested to provide the same level of services in FY06 as the town currently receives is $263,000 above the "guideline" budget (which increases wages by 3% and all other costs by 1.5%).
The guideline budget is balanced and does not require any override of Proposition 2-1/2, the state law that prohibits property taxes from rising more than 2-1/2% per year.
Most groups also presented a "growth" budget, which includes various "wish list" items for increased service or other improvements. In hearings over the past two weeks, the FinCom heard a variety of budget-stretching requests.
Town Clerk seeks expanded hours
Charlene Hinton, the Town Clerk, repeated her request made at the preliminary hearings for expanded hours of service (see Mosquito 12-3-04.) Hinton is currently paid for 20 hours per week, and the Town Clerk's office is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays. However, Hinton frequently puts in after-hours time catching up, stays open late for special requests, and must also put in extra hours around Election Day.
Hinton reported that the town's Personnel Board recently approved an expansion of her time to 35 hours per week. Ideally, she said, this would extend her office hours to 3 p.m., with another hour each day for paperwork. The budgetary impact would be $26,229, or 63% above guideline. Trask said that his committee did not dispute the need for increased hours, but was struggling with how to pay for it. Services provided by the town clerk (e.g. marriage or hunting licenses), Trask added, benefit a subset of the town's population, rather than the town as a whole. Trask asked Hinton to look into ways of raising these fees so that the town does not subsidize the needs of a few. Hinton agreed to look at this and report back to the committee.
RecCom director position to be redefined
Maureen Tarca, chair of the Recreation Commission, also repeated her recommendation to fund two part-time Co-directors of Recreation (see Mosquito 12-3-04.) Tarca explained that the Commonwealth had originally set up a "revolving" account to cover seasonal recreation expenses such as summer camp (M.G.L. Chapter 44, Section 53D). Currently, Tarca said, the town employs up to 100 people in various recreational programs. The director of such programs is also funded from the "53D" account, but Tarca feels that this position is no longer "seasonal," even though it remains part-time. The Recreation Director is a separate, part-time position, but is funded through the town's General Fund.
Tarca said that the Personnel Board had approved her recommendation to create a co-director position, with each co-director taking a portion of the duties. Both co-directors would be paid from the town's General Fund, increasing that budget by $29,133, or 37% above guideline. The unspent portion of 53D funds would either be used elsewhere or could be transferred into the General Fund as permitted by the statute.
Trask reread the language of 53D, which reads in part: "Funds in said revolving fund shall not be used for the purpose of paying any wages or salaries for full-time, as defined in the guidelines issued by the director of accounts, recreation and park employees." Trask said he did not see how this prohibited payment of a part-time, but regular (as opposed to seasonal) employee. Tarca and Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie agreed to clarify the issue.
DPW requests two new positions
Presenting on behalf of Superintendent of Public Works Gary Davis, McKenzie told the committee that the department was requesting an additional machine operator and a driver to increase its staff from eight to ten employees. Several FinCom members questioned the need, asking whether it would be more cost-effective to hire contract employees on demand. McKenzie said that contract employees were not always available, often not qualified and could not be considered contractors if used on a regular basis. The impact of the DPW budget is $70,636, or 8% above guideline. However, there appeared to be no reduction in the amount budgeted for either overtime or contracted services, which presumably would be reduced by some amount if two employees were added.
While acknowledging the importance of DPW to maintaining town safety, the FinCom struggled with this request. Member John Nock said that one solution would be to put the suggestion for expanded services to a town vote.
Trails Committee seeks $3,000
In comparison with the amounts sought by other departments, Marc Lamere's request seemed incidental. The chair of the Trails Committee said that his committee enjoys maintaining the 40 miles of town trails, and has historically funded this work through grants or out of their own pockets. The Committee is currently using a grant of $8,500 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a $4,000 grant from Field Pond, a western Massachusetts organization that promotes conservation.
The problem, Lamere said, is that grant writing is time consuming and funding is sporadic. His volunteers do not like to write grants, and both this time commitment and the potential hiatus in funding results in long delays to trail projects, most of which involve bridges and boardwalks over wetland areas, such as the recently completed River Trail boardwalks (See Mosquito 11-19-04.) His committee took a long-term look at trail needs and approximately 20 short and 10 long boardwalks are needed across all town trails. At a total cost (supplies only, labor is volunteered) of approximately $45,000 over fifteen years, this would provide a stable flow of projects at a cost of only $3,000 per year, according to Lamere.
The problem is that FinCom cannot authorize this request. Lamere could go to the Long-Term Capital Requirements Committee, but this is not likely to help for the upcoming season. The Trails Committee cannot receive donations or hold fund-raising events, because it is a "town-managed" board, according to FinCom member Jim Fitzsimmons. Any funds authorized through the town's General Fund must be spent in the year authorized. Further, 53E revolving funds available through the Commonwealth's Wetlands Protection Act, do not apply, even though such boardwalks are there specifically to permit enjoyment of Carlisle's open spaces with minimal impact to the wetlands.
Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie said that the Board of Selectmen was leaning toward the Long-Term Caps solution. In the meantime, the FinCom recommended that Lamere's committee continue to write grants and also seek funding from the town's Community Preservation Committee, which receives matching grants from the Commonwealth's Community Preservation Act for various open space programs. Finally, Trask suggested that a separate Warrant article put to a town vote would find a receptive audience from Carlisle's many trail users.
For real: ConsCom asks for 7% cut
The entire Conservation Commission sat through Chairman Tricia Smith's presentation, in which she presented a budget 7% below last year's. Smith explained that the ConsCom has been diligent in using its 53E wetlands funds to pay for wages and costs specific to wetlands protection, resulting in a reduced use of General Funds and an overall increase in total costs within guidelines.
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