Friday, March 3, 2006
FinCom hopes to expand town services
In a first-pass attempt to get a handle on the budget for FY07, the Carlisle Finance Committee (FinCom) showed its generous inclinations by rejecting out-of-hand only $95,000 of $620,000 in requests received from town departments in excess of guideline. Additions to staffing at Town Hall, in Communications, and at the DPW, increased library hours, police training, and a 16% raise for the Council on Aging budget are among the items the FinCom will try to fund. A high Free Cash balance of $953,000 lent hope to the possibility that many of the town's needs can be satisfied this year.
The guideline issued by the FinCom in the fall contained a 3 to 4% increase for most departments, with some exceptions (line items for heating and fuel were allowed to increase 50% and 30% respectively and insurance was up 13.4%). Over the past two months, each department has presented three budgets: one conforming to the guideline (guideline budget), one which keeps services the same as in FY06 (level services budget), and one which includes new requests (growth budget). The Carlisle Public School and Long-Term Capital Requirements Committee had not yet presented to the FinCom and were therefore not discussed.
The goal as laid out by Chair Thornton Ash was to prepare for a meeting with the Selectmen the next day by taking a look at total requests and beginning to prioritize. In later meetings decisions will be made as to how much of the overage can be absorbed through a Free Cash transfer, how much will go into a proposed override of the Proposition 2 1/2 limits on taxes to be voted at Annual Town Meeting, and whether further cuts will be needed.
Legal expense up
Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie had put together her own recommendations, and these provided a basis for discussion. Highest priority was given to items "either required or already over budget." The largest of these was $68,000 in additional legal expenses. McKenzie pointed to several years of legal budget overruns to support her contention that the guideline for legal, at $81,600, is inadequate, with actual expenses running more like $150,000. It was agreed to try to fund $43,000 of the $68,000. A suggestion that an additional $25,000 be put into the Reserve Fund as a contingency was rejected. According to Finance Director Larry Barton, the Reserve Fund can only be used for unexpected, unanticipated expenses and "a budget that's been overrun for years can hardly be called unanticipated."
Depts. to share new hire
The largest discretionary item was a $50,000 request for a full-time staff person to provide assistance to the Town Administrator and Housing Authority. The Fire Department, which had requested $10,000 in secretarial help that the FinCom decided not to recommend, might draw on this person too. Sue Wolfe was concerned that "combining all these responsibilities into one individual is kind of a stretch." Barbara Bjornson noted the "recognized need for staff," and supported the idea of "one person who can be moved around." Ash led the vote in support, suggesting, "Let's fund the $50,000 to support a resource" but recommend to the Selectmen that they explore ways to use contract employees to avoid committing to a full-time person immediately.
for library hours expansion
The library had submitted $17,700 in requests, including $3,000 to replace an early-childhood specialist, $5,400 to stay open on Saturdays during July and August, and $9,300 for Sunday hours for four months. John Nock questioned why summer Saturday hours were given priority, and was reminded a library survey had provided feedback that that was the town's preference. All library requests were accepted for the time being, with the notation the Sunday hours would be a lower priority if cuts must be made.
DPW, police receive more
DPW staffing ($34,155) and tree removal ($1,929) were among the highest priorities on McKenzie's list. The staffing increase is a bow to reality, and substantial tree damage has occurred in recent storms. "They could probably use ten times this ($1,929), but this is what they asked for," said McKenzie. Sue Wolfe suggested increasing the budget for snow and ice removal as it is overrun every year. As a result, an additional and unrequested $10,000 were approved for the DPW, for a total of $46,084.
The Police Department had asked for a number of increases totaling $42,300, including cyber-crime training ($10,000), in-house training ($7,000), the police sergeant's exam ($6,000), court time ($6,000), NEMLEC attendance ($5,000) for an additional officer, FBI Academy ($5,000), staff meetings ($2,300), and additional fuel ($1,000). The sergeant exam was given the highest priority on McKenzie's listing and was quickly approved. Ash noted the importance of staff meetings with a new chief and reminded FinCom members that Police Chief John Sullivan had considered in-house training "priority one." Those items were accepted, with the cyber-crime training and FBI Academy deferred to next year. The three items totaled $15,300.
Other requests honored
The Council on Aging request for $8,092 in additional hours had been assigned a lower priority on McKenzie's list, but she appeared to reconsider. "This is one I think we really need to do," she said, noting rising senior participation and provision of more health care opportunities. The FinCom voted unanimously to approve it.
Other "got to have" items included wages for the communications department for a fourth person to reduce overtime ($15,134), funding of the Board of Assessor tri-annual property revaluation ($10,000), additional hours for the Building Inspector secretary ($7,322), EMT stipends ($6,000) Recreation Commission field mowing ($6,000) and Town Hall contract overages ($3,070). A suggestion that the sheep used by the Conservation Commission be brought in to RecCom fields met with the observation, "It's pretty hard to play soccer around them."
The Treasurer had requested funds for additional staff hours ($2,575), for systems training ($4,149), and for equipment maintenance ($1,325). Leading the vote to approve the first two, Ash noted, "It's hard to keep up without training, and we keep putting it off. I'd like to fit in some of these things we keep deferring." A $2,786 increment to wages for the Planning Board secretary also went forward.
Looking to fund $534,000
When all items were added, including the $128,300 request for the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School and a $168,166 place-holder for the Carlisle Public School (which had conveyed that this was the amount they are likely to request when they present on March 6), the total over-budget request was $534,564. Another $30,604 was needed to cover the cost of the McNamara bill, which requires death benefits for volunteer firefighters. For the purpose of this discussion, it was assumed that capital requirements will be within the $157,027 guideline, although the Long-Term Capital Requirements Committee had not yet been heard from.
Ash noted that, while the town is in a comfortable position this year due to the $953,000 Free Cash balance, those funds could be eaten up quickly as the Carlisle student percentage increases at the high school over the next few years. Carlisle's assessment for the high school is based on the ratio of Carlisle-to-Concord students, and several large Carlisle classes are in the future. Ash noted that if the assessment rises to 30%, "We could find ourselves underwater on free cash relatively quickly." Nock suggested that "some combination of Free Cash and override" would be the best route this year, rather than rely entirely on a Free Cash transfer. Ash concluded that the FinCom had found "a good starting point" for beginning the discussion with the Selectmen on how best to provide for FY07.
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