Friday, December 1, 2006
FinCom ups ConsCom spending limit
The November 27 Finance Committee (FinCom) meeting concentrated on two agenda items: (1) a request by the Conservation Commission (ConsCom) to increase the limit that can be expended from its "revolving fund" to increase the available time for the administrative assistant from 15 hours to 19 hours per week, and (2) respond to questions regarding the town budget process.
ConsCom seeks more staff hours
Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard and ConsCom members Kelly Stringham and Tom Schultz presented the case for added expenditure from its revolving fund for the remainder of the current fiscal year. The justification was increased workload — specifically more projects subject to the wetlands bylaw and greater complexity of the applications. Stringham said that even some applications for single-family homes are now more complex because of the "marginal" nature of the lots. The FinCom approved the request.
A general discussion of "revolving funds" ensued — with lively participation by FinCom, ConsCom representatives, Planning Board representatives (Administrator George Mansfield and board member Brian Larson), Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie, and Larry Barton, the town's Finance Director.
What are revolving funds?
Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 44 §53E-1/2 states, "a city or town may annually authorize the use of one or more revolving funds by one or more municipal agency, board, department or office which shall be accounted for separately from all other monies in such city or town and to which shall be credited only the departmental receipts received in connection with the programs supported by such revolving fund. Expenditures may be made from such revolving fund without further appropriation.In any fiscal year the limit on the amount that may be spent from a revolving fund may be increased with the approval of the selectmen and finance committee." The annual authorization required for such accounts permits "rolling over" the accumulated balances annually, but does not allow for any refund of unused funds to the applicant. Any interest goes to the town's general fund revenue.
The Carlisle Annual Town Meeting authorized 11 such revolving funds. For example: The Carlisle School collects user fees to be spent by the School Committee to provide transportation for seventh- and eighth-grade students. The ConsCom collects user fees and funds activities and maintenance associated with Foss Farm. The ConsCom collects fees relative to Carlisle's Wetland Protection Bylaw and expends funds for specific expert engineering and consulting services to review Wetland Bylaw filings. Other accounts include those for the Board of Health, Historical Commission, Youth Commission, Building Inspector, Council on Aging, Transfer Station and Trails Committee.
Massachusetts General Law Chapter 44 §53G has broader language and provides for revolving fund sources that do not require annual authorization. The Carlisle Planning Board uses §53G accounts to pay for engineering and consultant review of subdivisions that come before the board. Such an account is equivalent to an "escrow account" familiar to most homeowners. Money paid by the applicant for each project is placed in a separate revolving account set up by the Town Accountant. Interest accumulated by the fund remains with the fund. The Planning Board can expend money from the account for engineering and consultant fees related to that project. Upon completion of the project any excess is returned to the applicant. When Planning Board Administrator George Mansfield and town Finance Director Larry Barton described the 53G accounts, the FinCom interest waned rapidly — potential for overrun in such revolving accounts that would have to be covered by the town is nil. Sylvia Willard joined this discussion by noting that only recently has the legislature extended authority to Conservation Commissions to establish 53G accounts.
Of more interest were the 53E-1/2 revolving accounts, where there could be some town financial exposure. In that it is difficult to predict activity on many such accounts, Chair Thornton Ash suggested that the FinCom collect data, saying "We would like to see a full-year history including sources of revenue broken out into meaningful accounts and the same detail for the expense side. We can then get some insight into how closely revenue and expenditures match."
The FinCom has asked each department to prepare a budget that fits within the guideline limit of a 2.9% increase, as well as a budget that shows what is needed to maintain current services and one that includes reasonable growth.
"Budget hearings will be held in January and February," said Ash, who will draw up a schedule of hearings. He added, "We will try to schedule budget hearings for related topics together."
Ash recommended that the FinCom cancel their anticipated December 4 discussion of Carlisle School budgets. "The School Committee will meet on December 6. We will see the budgets the first time at our budget hearings."
The next FinCom meeting is scheduled for December 18 to consider requests for revolving fund authorizations for additional hours for Recreation Commission, Board of Health and Council on Aging.
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