Friday, May 2, 2008
Selectmen review Warrant, support override
On April 22, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) reviewed the Warrant for Town Meeting May 5. After some discussion, a vote was taken to support the override (Article 15) to provide additional money to the high school. In addition, most other Articles were supported, with the exceptions of Motion 7 of Article 21 ($425,000 CPA funds for Benfield) and Article 28 (Board of Health fines) which required further information or clarification. These will be discussed and voted at a 6 p.m. meeting in the Corey Building just before Town Meeting.
Article 15 - CCHS Override
Article 15 provides an additional $251,000 for CCHS, above the levy-limit budget in Article 9, because of a spike in special education outplacements. Under Proposition 2 ½, the town must support the override at Town Meeting and the polls if it wishes to exceed the 2 ½% property tax increase. If the override passes, the average Carlisle tax bill will rise by 3.7% next year.
The regional agreement requires that Concord and Carlisle agree on a level of funding for the high school, and while Concord will include the higher CCHS budget within their levy limit, Carlisle will require the override to meet the same level. If the Carlisle override were to fail, a process of negotiation would commence, possibly resulting in a joint Town Meeting.
Selectman John Williams voiced ambivalence: “I’m tempted to push this” and if the override fails, “have an opportunity for another dialogue” with the Regional School Committee. Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie noted the Finance Committee (FinCom) had worked hard to get on the same page with Concord, but when that town went its own way, had a “long discussion and unanimously voted to support” the override. “They did,” answered Williams, looking thoughtful as he considered this information.
Selectman Doug Stevenson voiced several concerns. “It’s very troublesome this all goes to special education while regular education sees a minor decrease in funding.” He also pointed to last year’s Long-Term Planning Committee report, noting “one of the conclusions was we should look at flattening the curve [of rising operating budgets]. Are we going to get serious about this?”
Stevenson said other departments and the Carlisle School (CPS) are being asked to survive under the levy limit. McKenzie noted this wasn’t strictly true, because Free Cash and other mechanisms were used to help out the CPS. “The FinCom wanted to treat everyone equally” but decided to put only the high school on the override to signal to taxpayers where costs are growing the most. “So there’s some arbitrariness to where they put the $250K,” observed Tim Hult, noting the original bill for eight special education placements originally exceeded $700,000 and the school “forced a lot out of the budget in other areas” to get the override down to $250,000.
McKenzie explained that for the Carlisle budget level to hold, the RSC would have to give up over $700,000 in Concord funding to keep the towns in synch. The regional agreement provides that the budget must be divided fairly according to the school population from each town, so it is not possible for the school to accept more per student from Concord than from Carlisle. Add to this the cost of unemployment benefits for the necessary layoffs, and the loss to the school would be well over $1 million. If cuts are necessary, they will not come from special education, which is state mandated, but will result in “reductions in services to other students,” said McKenzie.
Williams questioned if there was any possibility for negotiation. McKenzie said if the override were to fail, the issue would likely go straight to a joint Town Meeting, as the school needs resolution by June 30 when the current budget year ends. If the joint meeting voted to accept the higher level, Carlisle would have to pony up. Without the override authorization to raise taxes, other town budgets would have to suffer. “So we could be in a worse position,” noted Williams.
There were sighs of frustration. Between under-funded state mandates for special education and the regional agreement, there seemed little room to maneuver. Selectman Alan Carpenito ventured that while being a regional partner has its advantages, “one of the sacrifices we made is we have no control over this [budget].” Added Hult, “The net for me is, I will vote to support this. It relates to issues we’re not in control of.” A vote was taken, and of the four Selectmen present, three supported the override, with Stevenson against.
Article 21 - CPA projects
Article 21 concerns transfers from Community Preservation Funds for various town needs. Motion 7 for $425,000 for Benfield infrastructure was questioned by Stevenson, who noted the town had already paid for the land, and asked, “How much of this project are we subsidizing?” Hult explained that a look at comparable projects in other towns had indicated a sweetener might be needed to get bids. Williams said it is hoped the town will not have to spend the money, but “if no developer comes forward with a viable proposal, we’re really back at square zero.” McKenzie added that five developers have asked to be put on the list for distribution of the RFP, which is planned to go out this summer. A vote was deferred until after the Finance Committee votes on this motion.
Article 25 - Septic loan program
Article 25 provides loans for homeowners who can’t afford to upgrade septic systems, and has been questioned by some in town who have already upgraded without help. This new program, recommended by the Board of Health (BOH), allows the town to borrow from the state at no interest. The funds are then lent to the homeowner at 2% interest. The interest helps the town establish its own funding. The selectmen supported it unanimously.
Article 28 - BOH fines
Article 28 is also a BOH initiative, establishing a $300 fine for violations of regulations. The need for the fine was not clear, so the Selectmen deferred voting until more information is received.
Hult said he does not expect an overflow crowd for Town Meeting, though he has heard “some interest in the override, especially from the senior population.” It was noted that babysitting is being provided. ∆
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