Friday, March 24, 2006
FinCom lowers override request to $150,766, debates details
On Monday, March 20, the FinCom revisited their FY07 budget recommendations based on a Selectmen's request to "reconsider and make some adjustments" with an eye toward reducing the $296,466 override amount they had put forward in early March. After two hours of discussion, the FinCom voted to recommend a $150,766 override consisting of $75,766 for the Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) and $75,000 for the Carlisle Public School (CPS). It was noted the override, if passed, would increase the tax rate 1.8%.
The FinCom will also recommend a free cash transfer to the town budget of $246,465 to cover shortfalls, including $93,166 for CPS.
$174,000 is found
The changes were partly a result of new information, including the correction of a $174,000 error which had overstated town expenses. The error involved a line item for debt service on the Benfield purchase which was taken from the town budget when it should have been under the Community Preservation Act (CPA) fund. The effect of finding the error was to increase the town's available funds by $174,000.
In addition, last week the Concord Selectmen voted to include more of the CCHS budget in their levy limit and put less on an override. The levy limit is the maximum amount a town can raise through property taxes in a given year, without voting an override. In order to meet Concord's CCHS support level, Carlisle needs to fundan additional $52,534 within the levy and reduce the high school override to $75,766.
Although the state legislature has put forward higher numbers for state aid, the Regional School Committee (RSC) did not vote to include the new aid in the budget, which would have reduced Carlisle's assessment for the high school.
Override supported, but who should suffer?
There was little disagreement on the need for an override. As expressed by FinCom member David Trask, "The levy must be raised. There is growth in all budgets." He pointed to increases of 6.88% at CCHS, 6% for CPS, and "six to seven percent for the town" and added, "The recurring revenue stream is increasing far less, more like two to three percent. We would not be wise not to have an override."
Disagreement arose when talk turned to what should go on the override. John Nock strongly opposed an override for the high school. He said that when benefits and debt were included, growth at town hall had reached 10%, not the six to seven percent figure put forward by Trask. "This year town growth is greater and that should be presented as fact. It's not the schools that are causing the problem."
Sue Wolfe had printed some numbers from the Department of Revenue website showing Carlisle paying the second most per capita for education of communities in the state. Barbara Bjornson said, "If the schools are demanding more and we don't put that out visibly, we're doing a disservice to the community." But Nock offered his own statistic that CCHS had seen an "eighty-eight percent growth in population over six years," adding, "The budget has not kept up with growth."
proposed for schools
"I'm not comfortable to have a lower override for the high school," said Wolfe, supporting a suggestion the CPS override be reduced to $75,000 with a free cash transfer. She was unhappy with the RSC's decision not to include the new state aid numbers which would have lowered the Carlisle portion of the CCHS budget overage by $40,000. "What if we refuse to fund $40,000?" she asked. But Finance Director Larry Barton discouraged her from that path, explaining that for Carlisle to come up with its own budget inconsistent with Concord would trigger a messy process for reconciling the mismatch, ending in a joint Town Meeting. "You may make your point, but you will not prevail," he concluded.
Trask offered an argument against pitching the schools at the same override level, noting the CCHS budget at $4.5 million Carlisle dollars is half the CPS budget of $9 million, so an override half the size would be proportionate. But Wolfe said she continued to support "more of the high school on an override," adding, "There's more squoosh in the high school budget."
Bjornson recommended the FinCom take a closer look at teacher contracts, "It's frustrating we don't have a lot of input into the schools and it's 70% of our budget." Chair Thornton Ash agreed that contracts should be reviewed this summer, but said he was satisfied that "we do enough due-diligence on the schools. I don't want to cut so they don't have pens and paper."
considered for override
Selectmen John Williams asked the FinCom to consider, "What really is new and what is an increase?" in standard operations. This led to a discussion of whether the staff addition to the DPW, extra police hours, library Saturday opening, more hours for the Council on Aging, and the hiring of an assistant town administrator for affordable housing should be considered for override. But Ash was opposed and said a discussion with "moms at the bus stop" indicated "they were incredulous we would hang $8,000 for the library and $8,000 for seniors on an override."
Wolfe noted the library hours are a new service, "but the service is demanded by the town." She added, "If anyone has done due diligence to prove a need, it's the library" which had survey results supporting the town's desire for more hours. Trask agreed, "In a way, the town's already voted on this."
Housing resource to become warrant article
Trask wanted to include the affordable housing employee on the override to provide an opportunity to educate the public in the need, "Without this person it will be a mess. We're not going to get an affordable housing plan in any detail if we don't staff it." Wolfe agreed with putting the position on the override for a different reason, "I don't think that position is sufficiently justified. We don't have work on hand that's not getting done now."
Bjornson opposed putting the position on an override under fear it could be voted down. Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie resolved the issue with a suggestion it be offered as a warrant article. In this way it would not be subject to a vote in Town Elections as well as Town Meeting, and "voters (at the ballot box) don't have all the information and discussion of Town Meeting" to help in their decision. The suggestion was adopted.
A vote was take on a levy limit budget and on an override budget that includes $75,766 for CCHS and $75,000 for CPS for a total $150,766. The override budget passed four to one with Nock opposed due to the inclusion of the entire CCHS overage. He said, "You're taking the budget with the least amount of growth (the CCHS budget) and making it on purpose the highest thing on the override."
Should the override be offered as one amount or two? Wolfe noted, "I would vote differently for two items. I would support the override for CPS. I would not for CCHS." To secure the greatest probability for passage, it was agreed to propose offering the override as one amount.
A final decision on the override will be made by the selectmen this week in preparation for Spring Town Meeting in May.
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