Friday, February 8, 2008
Fees may rise as town departments seek lifeline for FY09 budget
In an upcoming fiscal year in which town departments have been told no increases will be coming in the operating budget, important services may be retained only if those who use them pay more. As the DPW, Recreation Commission and Gleason Library trooped through their budget presentations on Febrary 4, the Finance Committee (FinCom) returned often to a theme of encouraging each to raise fees.
Transfer Station fee may increase
Gary Davis noted that at the Department of Public Works (DPW), adherence to the flat line budget will cost him "one employee a couple days a week." He controls a revolving fund for transfer station sticker fees that collects about $30,000 per year. FinCom chair Dave Model questioned whether fees could be raised to cover more of the projected $278,000 Transfer Station budget, which is also under DPW management. Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie said that currently sticker funds are reserved for disposing of hazardous materials, but "that could be changed." Also, if the funds are not spent by year's end, they would be transferred to the town's General Fund, where they become accessible for other town use.
A suggestion to raise Transfer Station fees from $15 to $30 was discussed. Davis noted that other towns charge as much as $125 "and that's just trash, not TVs, computer monitors, refrigerators . . ." accepted in Carlisle. But Carlisle Finance Director Larry Barton said the Selectmen had made a previous decision to keep the cost of the Transfer Station mostly within taxes, because "it's a service that transcends the community." Thornton Ash said trash pick up costs as much as $500 per year and felt, "it's reasonable to make a proposal" to the Selectmen for an increase at the Transfer Station.
The FY08 snow and ice budget is currently overrun by $11,000 and each snow storm costs about $5,000 to $6,000, depending on conditions. "There's nothing I can do about it," said Davis. "I have to spend it." The overage will be taken care of at the end of the year, possibly with a Reserve Fund transfer.
for Gleason Library?
Phil Conti and Priscilla Stevens of the Library Trustees and Head Librarian Angela Mollet noted that in order to cut $18,000 from the budget, weekday hours may be shortened, summer hours may be reduced, the collections budget will be cut, and staffing for story times, computer training, programs for Carlisle School's early release days, reference and outreach will be curtailed. In a cover letter it was noted the factors governing the cuts were to spread the pain across audiences, keep access a priority and maintain consistent hours. Cutting Saturday hours is difficult as "it's our busiest day," said Mollet. Stevens noted the circuit of Saturday morning errands to Ferns, the transfer station, bank, library and post office "has become habitual" in Carlisle.
The Friends of the Gleason Public Library fundraising organization cannot be tapped for operational funds, noted Stevens. The group, which raises $6,000 to $10,000 each year pays for programming and a few additions to the collections. Maintenance would not be in the FOGPL charter except in the rare case that damage was done through a program, such as art marring the wall. "So we can't argue art caused the water damage?" joked FinCom member Dave Verrill. The Library Trustees manage a fund with a current balance of $143,000 which donates about $5,000 per year to the library.
The Library does not keep control of its fines, which are instead deposited in the town's General Fund. Fines collected each year total about $16,000 to $17,000, enough to close the gap if they were within the library budget. Model wondered if the Trustees would consider raising fines. According to Conti, fines are levied to discourage hoarding of library materials, and with other libraries eliminating them, it's unlikely an increase would be considered.
One complication of the guideline budget is that the library will have to apply to the state for a waiver of a requirement that 20% of the budget be spent on collections. Under the proposal, the Library will spend 19%. This may also result in a reduction of about $500 in state aid.
Another difficulty is retaining personnel. Because the library is staffed primarily with part-timers, any reduction means a balancing act to ensure each gets enough hours on the right days. Stevens later explained that 15 of the library's 17 employees work part-time. Volunteers have recently donated between 1,700 and 2,500 hours per year to aid the library staff. Conti praised Mollet's management of the budget, noting Mollet had consulted with everyone and received input on where cuts would hurt least.
Recreation costs rise
Holly Hamilton, Recreation Director, listed with enthusiasm some of the new programs she has launched since coming to Carlisle a few months ago. These include music, art, sports camps, science and nature programs. But she was dismayed to learn that fees may have to rise. "People won't sign up," she worried. "Carlisle is (already) on the higher end."
One of the issues is the increasing cost of personnel. Larry Barton explained that whereas 10% of the sum collected from program fees was transferred out of the RecCom revolving fund to the General Fund this year, next year it will have to be 17% to cover a $9,000 increase in salaries. Another possible pressure on costs is a FinCom suggestion to the CPS that they raise fees collected for recreational usage of the school. "I think the RecCom should receive an exemption or at least a discounted rate. We're doing this for the kids," said Hamilton.
Alan Deary of the Recreation Commission, arriving late, was sanguine, "So we need fees that cover our costs and are still attractive? No problem. We'll either put ourselves out of business or figure it out."
Carlisle School budget
Between presentations there was discussion of how to deal with overages in the Carlisle School's FY09 level service budget proposal. FinCom member Thornton Ash said the school budget presentation the previous week "didn't make a case why they need more than the levy limit." He noted the guideline could be met without cuts in administrative staff or professional development, and class size and overall student-to-teacher ratio would stay the same. Model pointed out that the zero growth budget included larger grade six class sizes and the loss of language classes. Ash responded that a persuasive case could be made for elementary languages, but "you can't do everything." Verrill agreed that many of the unfunded items "did not seem high priority" and that some things included would have been eliminated anyway due to a decline in the school population.
Barton noted that layoffs at the school would carry a cost in unemployment insurance of about $9,000 to $12,000 per layoff. This sum would come out of the town budget, not the school's. In general, the FinCom members were disinclined to discuss a transfer from the town's free cash balance to cover more funds for the school in the absence of compromise.
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