Friday, September 28, 2007
Concord's revenues outpace Carlisle's Carlisle may be squeezed to match funding for CCHS in FY09
For over ten years, the Concord and Carlisle Boards of Selectmen, Finance Committees and the Regional School Committee have met at the beginning of the budget season to understand needs and constraints of each town and the shared high school. By the end of this year's meeting on September 20, it was clear that Concord's fiscal picture is considerably rosier than Carlisle's.
Concord sees 3.8% growth
The current estimate is that Concord will see a 3.8% increase in revenues that can be applied to all town budgets. In contrast, Carlisle is estimating almost no increase in revenues for the FY09 budget. If Concord applies the 3.8% increase to the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) budget, Carlisle will need to come up with roughly $201,000 to match it. If enrollment projections are correct, and Carlisle's share of students also increases slightly, an additional $53,000 will be needed, for a total increase of $254,000.
The evening started with a presentation by CCHS Superintendent Brenda Finn, who said, "School districts are very aware of balancing capital needs with town needs. We know it will be very challenging."
She said that special education costs will increase due to a number of new students needing out-of-district placements who moved in to the school district over the summer.The school will apply to a State Extraordinary Relief Fund which was set up for districts with significant unanticipated costs such as these. "We don't know if we will get any part of the $5 million pot," said Finn.
Finn is concerned about the increasing use of the Regional School District (RSD) Excess and Deficiency Fund. Two years ago, $100,000 was taken out to balance the high school budget. Last year, $400,000 was used. She noted that a continuation at that rate is not sustainable.
Carlisle's growth stalls
Tim Hult of the Carlisle Board of Selectmen laid out the town's tough finances. "This will be an extremely tight budgeting year." He ranked it as one of the top two or three tightest budgets he has seen in his 20 years of public service.
"New growth estimates are dramatically lower," he said. The growth in real estate valuation caused by housing construction provides the town with additional property tax revenue. Hult noted that new growth has fallen from $30 million to $23 million to $18 million to $8 million over the last few years. He added that retirement insurance rates were expected to increase by 10% and special education costs and legal expenses were expected to increase. He told the group that Carlisle saw a 7.5% tax increase last year and a $250,000 override narrowly passed. Carlisle has the fourth highest tax rate in the Commonwealth. "Moreover, there is less free cash to put into the budget this year," he noted.
According to Hult, the fastest growing sector of the population in Carlisle was the group over 60 and the first recorded birth this year was in March. His objective: "to fund the school and avoid a joint Town Meeting."
Hult put the tax bill into perspective. If the current operating expense growth continues, Carlisle may see an increase in taxes of 30% in the next five years. In addition, Carlisle faces a $20-30 million building project for the K-8 school and another $30 million for its share of a new high school. Each school project is estimated to add another 12% to the tax bill. That would cause taxes to increase 50-60% over the next five years. "Is that tenable?" he asked.
Hult said, "We need to work on both sides," to consider the timing of the building projects, and to find ways to moderate operating expenses.
Concord Selectman Peggy Briggs remarked, "That was very sobering."
Concord budget details
Concord's fiscal picture could not be more different. Concord's Treasurer-Collector Tony Logalbo told the group, "The revenue picture has brightened." Concord has received $108,972 in additional state aid that had not been expected. Also, interest rates continued higher for longer than expected which yielded $200,000 that had not been anticipated. There has been a lot of new development in Concord with business and residential growth totaling about $100 million. Plus, there is $1million of unused levy money left from last year. As a result, Concord can support a 3.8% guideline budget increase while staying within the levy limit.
Free cash can't solve Carlisle's problems
In contrast, Carlisle Finance Director Larry Barton said, "We're seeing fewer building permits and licenses We're expecting a 0.2% increase in revenue." Barton also touched on the prudence of raiding free cash to solve the shortfall. Carlisle FinCom member Dave Model suggested that perhaps the increases caused by the shifting student ratio could be covered by free cash. Official enrollment at CCHS will be calculated on October 1.
Regional School Committee Chair Michael Fitzgerald reported that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has received 30 applications for schools rated a "4" (worst condition). Of those, six are for high school projects, including the application to replace CCHS with a new building. An architect and an engineer from MSBA visited CCHS on Monday, September 24. According to Director of Finance and Operations John Flaherty, they were just collecting data and did not make any comments. Fitzgerald said the MSBA will identify which schools they will continue to work with in December.
Carlisle Selectman Doug Stevenson asked whether the MSBA had given any indication that receiving funding for one project might jeopardize other projects in that town. Concord is applying for funding for construction of a new Willard Elementary School and Carlisle has submitted a Statement of Interest for a new structure to replace the Spalding Building at the Carlisle School. Wedge explained that the Concord Public Schools, Carlisle Public School and CCHS represent three different school districts. Also, the MSBA has stated that decisions "will be based solely on need" and the "process is community-blind."
Recent CCHS improvements
Director of Finance and Operations John Flaherty summarized the many capital improvements made to CCHS recently. Science lab safety issues have been addressed, the gym floor has been resurfaced, asbestos has been removed and there is a new cafeteria floor and new cafeteria furniture. There are two new modular trailers in use, one houses two classrooms and the other has small offices for the Guidance and Special Education Departments.
In closing, Model said, "Let's try to stay coordinatedI appeal to everyone's judgment. Let's try to meet both towns' needs."
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