Friday, December 14, 2007
FinCom budget guideline sets 0% increase in FY09
Finance Committee (FinCom) Chair Dave Model brought tidings of little comfort and joy as he addressed the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, December 11. As expected, the FinCom is issuing a guideline FY09 budget of 0% growth to Carlisle's departments, necessitated by a slow-down in new real estate (see article, "Finance Committee Chair David Model sees rough sailing ahead," December 7). As if to illustrate the need to plan responsibly for the future, Model was accompanied by his three-year-old daughter, who provided a few chuckles as the Selectmen struggled to absorb the impact a 0% growth budget would entail.
The Finance Committee is required by state law to prepare a guideline budget that assumes no override of state law Proposition 2 -1/2. This law allows property taxes to rise by 2 -1/2% per year. Model noted that the small increase is eaten up by fixed costs such as insurance and county retirement, which are both rising in the double digits. Carlisle pays the minimum 50% contribution to employee insurance required by state law.
Model said the FinCom has met with the managers of most departments and committees and "I believe we see a way to a zero budget." The Personnel Board has recommended a 3% raise which Model called "reasonable." That raise will likely be sustained through staff reductions, as two people have left who will not be replaced. "We're looking at ways to share staff," said Model, noting that the real-estate slow down means a reduced work load for some departments.
The FinCom has not yet determined how to handle the schools. It has recommended that a $28,000 overage at the high school due to an increase in the ratio of Carlisle-to-Concord students be covered by a transfer from Free Cash. Yet to be determined is what to do about "a $250,000 bill presented to us courtesy of the Concord Finance Committee," which is recommending a 3.8% increase for the school. Under the regional agreement, Carlisle and Concord must provide a consistent level of funding for the high school.
The Carlisle School also will likely show an overage. Preliminary estimates are that funding to retain all services would exceed the guideline budget by $600,000 to $700,000. The town currently shows $900,000 in Free Cash of which the FinCom would like to keep $600,000 in reserve."That gives us $300,000 to work with," said Model, possibly for meeting the high school budget or mitigating reductions at the Carlisle School.
One area of budgetary concern is the Communications and Police Departments. Communications is entering collective bargaining this year, and the police contract includes an increase. Model noted that Police Chief Sullivan has assured the FinCom he will try to work within the budget by reducing overtime.
Looking at fees
The FinCom is interested in creative means for increasing town revenues. Model said they are suggesting, for example, that charges for town services carry a 125% overhead fee in addition to the amount paid out of pocket. Also, the Transfer Station fee does not cover costs, and maybe it should. Model pointed to a 2003 report by an ad hoc Revenue Enhancement Committee, whose recommendations were generally not implemented, and suggested another look. "We want to offer the voters something besides cutting, cutting, and cutting."
Tim Hult agreed with adding an overhead burden to fees, but noted there was "enormous resistance" the last time an increase in Transfer Station fees was proposed. Selectman Doug Stevenson said the philosophy has been that services used by most citizens should be paid for through taxes, which are deductible from federal tax returns, versus fees which are not. Model concurred and noted the fee plan would, at best, raise tens of thousands of dollars, and "we may conclude it's not worth the aggravation."
Although it appears town departments may be able to struggle through one year at 0%, Model noted that this strategy may not work for the long term. Hult suggested looking at a preliminary three- to five-year budget which accounts for a Carlisle School project and for the allocation change at the high school. Model noted also the need to plan for continued slow real estate growth.
Hult pointed to several criteria he would like the FinCom to stick to as the budget process proceeds: "Fairness relating to departments, that's really important," he said, along with "good relations with Concord, and not getting into a huge conflict." He advocated "increased scrutiny of the high school budget" especially in the areas of special education and long-term salary increases, and encouraged the FinCom to advocate for retaining essential town services such as police. Finally, he would like the FinCom to develop "a vision into the future" regarding large capital expenses.
The guideline letter has been drafted and will be released next week. Departmental reviews start the first week in January. The FinCom encourages voters to attend. See the Mosquito or the town web site for a detailed schedule of hearings.
© 2007 The