Friday, March 30, 2007
Selectmen consider last-minute override change
In a surprise move, Selectman Tim Hult on Tuesday asked his colleagues to consider two proposals for restructuring the override in order to avoid going to Town Meeting with a plan that does not have Finance Committee (FinCom) approval (see article in this issue). The Selectmen had opened the Warrant for April 30 Town Meeting to put on a few finishing touches before the document was to go to print the next day. In earlier meetings they had voted to put forward a one-tier override of $245,682 to be distributed among several entities, including police, fire, Council on Aging (COA), and $151,000 for the Carlisle Public School (CPS). But the Finance Committee had voted not to support the Selectmen's override, suggesting a tiered override. "It's a late date," conceded Hult. "But one never likes to go into a situation in which the FinCom doesn't approve an override." After some discussion, the Selectmen voted to stay with their original override which will be Article 6 of the Town Warrant.
Hult's proposals protected some critical services in the event the override fails, an outcome that the FinCom's vote may now make more likely. His first proposal was to cover COA services through a fund transfer from Free Cash, thus making it part of the no-override budget. The COA requires $18,000 to adequately fund two positions that provide services that cannot be cut because they are state mandated or critical to the well-being of seniors. Currently those employees work overtime without pay. The second proposal would group emergency services, including the COA pay, communications department salaries, fire department stipends, police training, and senior tax voucher into a high-priority tier override, with other items, including the entire school override, as a lower-priority tier. The higher-priority override would total $50,124 and the second $195,558.
Tiers rejected, school supported
Bill Tice was the first to respond to the proposal to tier the overrides, "I don't feel comfortable changing it at this late date." He noted a vote had been taken and public meetings held. Alan Carpenito echoed that sentiment, as did Doug Stevenson. John Williams, who had originally voted for a tiered override and not the single override the Selectmen passed, did not see a reason to revisit the board's decision. "It's important for us to function as a board. We present our different perspectives, then take a vote."
Said Stevenson, "I really struggle with ranking the items," especially with putting "100% of the school out on the upper tier of the override." He noted that from the beginning the Selectmen had hoped to avoid pitting one group against another, "With a single override everybody's in this together. There will be significant pain to many if this doesn't pass." Williams added, "I feel strongly about the $18,000 (for the COA) but also think the school has done a good job. . . in recognizing we need to work on operating budgets. I'm not comfortable putting the entire $150,000 into the higher tier."
Concluded Hult, "There seems to be more sentiment to leave it the way it is?" Responded Carpenito, "I would say that is the sentiment. It is what it is."
Fund transfer to COA discussed
As the board turned to the proposal to fund the COA salaries from free cash, several members of the public spoke up. According to Bert Williams, "The impact will be significant (if the salaries stay as is)." He noted the COA has had four directors in 2-1/2 years and "the (unpaid) hours are very significant." Nadine Bishop, who noted she taught at the Carlisle Public School for 22 years and has a son who is a fireman, also spoke in support of the COA, pointing to the growing senior population and asking that the Selectmen "seriously consider" the proposed free cash transfer. Verna Gilbert pointed to the need and said, "It's not a huge amount of money."
Stevenson responded that the Selectmen have designated "$422,000 in free cash already to support operating expenses. This is unprecedented in my memory." He noted the transfer could be proposed as an amendment at Town Meeting, although that raises a concern that other groups would pursue that course, making for a messy budgetary process.
Avoid pitting one against another
Responding to a question about what happens if the override fails, Stevenson pointed to the school where "four teachers are already gone and four or five more would go." But, he added, "We'd still have a school, police force, and fire department. There will be layoffs, but nothing will come to a screeching halt." As to a contingency plan, Stevenson noted a past effort to mitigate the effects of an override "was not met with much appreciation," and Hult added that he would not advocate a fall-back plan, so "vote for (the override) or not."
Stevenson ended with a story that illustrated the need to bring all constituents together. His six-year old triplets have advised him on the town budget, one wanting more for the schools, one wanting shiny new fire trucks and one wanting to save more for her college education. Pointing to his family as a microcosm of the various Carlisle opinions, he concluded, "One of the goals is to avoid pitting entities against each other." He added, "If the seniors get the COA money, do they say 'The override is no longer important to me?'"
Concluding that the one bucket override was the way to go and that no further fund transfers were justified, the Selectmen closed the Warrant with no change to Article 6, after removing Article 12 and the corresponding ballot question because pathways may be financed using Community Preservation Act funds. Although the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) has not yet voted on funding the pathways article, Hult reported the CPC's support is solid and "That's where the pathways belong."
© 2007 The