Friday, March 25, 2005
No override in FinCom's FY06 budget
On Monday March 21, the Finance Committee took a last look at the nearly $20 million dollar budget they are recommending to the Selectmen. The Selectmen had requested that the FinCom balance the operating budget so that no override of Proposition 2-1/2 is requested at the Spring Town Meeting in May. To do so, a transfer from free cash is necessary. With a free cash balance of $504,531 left over from FY04 and one-time refund of $110,000 due from the NESWC (North East Solid Waste Committee) incinerator project, a substantial infusion of free cash into the FY06 operating budget was deemed possible.
As in past meetings (see accompanying story on page 4), the FinCom found it difficult to decide which additional items should be included in their levy limit (balanced) budget, and which items should be split out in separate Warrant Articles to be voted at Town Meeting.
Library: Sunday hours vs. computers
With members of Long-Term Capital Requirements Committee (LTCR) in attendance, the FinCom reviewed capital items recommended under the levy limit, as well as $180,500 in capital exclusion items.
Last week the FinCom had taken the LTCR recommendations under advisement and decided to fund four months of Sunday hours for the Gleason Library for $6,500 while reducing the amount allocated to library computers from $12,327 to $2,829. This change reflected a belief that Sunday hours would provide a significant service to the town and that computer replacements should be spread out to adhere to a maintenance schedule. In addition, Ray Wilkes had raised a concern the library was overpaying for internet access systems that should be cheaper than PCs running applications. A request to pay for an early childhood specialist for the library at $3,000 was denied as a low priority.
This week FinCom member Thornton Ash reported he had met with the library trustees and received feedback that "library computers are more important than Sunday hours." Lisa Jensen-Fellows of LTCR suggested moving a portion of the amount for computers for the Carlisle School into the capital exclusions in order to make room for library computers under the levy limit. She noted the library received no computer replacements last year and that "one town entity should not be favored over another. The need is equally valid in both places." Sue Wolfe said the head librarian Angela Reddin had indicated the high computer price was a result of extended warranties required because of heavy use and lack of in-house technical support.
Library computers win
Ash proposed raising the free cash transfer to fully fund the library computers. He pointed to the absurdity of "nickel and diming" the library over $9,000 when $200,000 of free cash transfers had already been approved. John Nock paraphrased him, "We haven't said 'no' yet, why start now?" More discussion ensued as to the wisdom of funding ongoing operations with free cash. But Ash, the only FinCom member who had voted against the proposal adopted last week, noted it was a little late to rethink the plan now, "We'll take it out of free cash (this year) and do the heavy lifting next year. Maybe we'll sharpen our pencils a little earlier." He presented a motion to restore library computer funds, take out Sunday hours, and use free cash to make up the difference. The motion passed unanimously.
Though library hours were deemed "a very valued service," Ash was concerned the library trustees were not pushing for this change. The FinCom defeated a motion to put library hours on the Warrant with a vote split three to three.
Increased hours for Town Clerk
The FinCom also revisited a Warrant Article proposing $26,239 in free cash be used to expand the Town Clerk's hours. Noting that she works forty to forty-five hours per week and is paid for twenty, Town Clerk Charlene Hinton, in attendance, disputed the perception that expanding paid hours was somehow adding to town services. "I'm asking to be paid for what I'm already doing." Ray Wilkes wondered if clerical support could be juggled to cover the work, but Hinton noted, "Other than honey sales and fishing licenses, everything I do is required by the state, and only the Town Clerk can do it."
The Warrant will also include several capital exclusion items. Public safety items include $42,500 for police mobile terminals, $78,000 to replace a backhoe, and $10,000 for the fire station. In addition $50,000 will be requested for a master plan for the Carlisle Public School so it can make a final determination where a new school would be sited and move ahead with currently-needed modular classrooms. Said Superintendent Marie Doyle, "The last thing I want to do is ask for money, especially with the wastewater treatment (also on the Warrant)." But, she noted, "It will cost the town a fortune if (modular classrooms) have to be moved because we put them in the wrong place."
Other items were addressed, including a $48,000 error in allocating Benfield interest payments and an addition of free cash to the DPW budget to outsource mowing for $4,000. This eliminates the need to purchase a tractor for $70,000. A $70,000 item for ventilating the fire station had previously been reduced to $10,000 as a grant has been applied for.
If the Town Clerk hours are approved, the total transfer from free cash will be $232,740. This will leave $271,791 in the free cash account. Though there may be disagreement as to the wisdom of funding operations with free cash, John Nock observed, "This is the first time in many years we are not asking for an override. We can take joy in that."
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