Friday, January 16, 2009
FinCom suggests trimming town budgets 2%
At its January 12 meeting with department heads for Police, Fire and Department of Public Works, the Finance Committee (FinCom) grappled with how to react to the downturn in the economy and to guidance provided by the state regarding local aid. (See also “Selectmen balance financial actions,” page 5.)
Treasurer Larry Barton said that the state anticipates a 10% cut for the next fiscal year (FY10) that starts on July 1. But he suggests planning budgets to accommodate as much as a 15% cut. Committee member Thornton Ash said, “The next year [FY11] is expected to be even worse.”
Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie added that the first two quarterly payments to FY09 have been received from the state but that there is no guarantee that the remaining two payments will not suffer cuts as well. Barton and FinCom Chair David Model began a discussion on how to prepare for such a reduction for the remaining 5-1/2 months of FY09.
Although no vote was taken on this topic, consensus was reached on the following: the FinCom would recommend that the Selectmen issue a memo to all department heads requesting a “good-faith effort” to cut 2% from remaining FY09 budgets. There is no discretion to cut salaries, but hours and other expenses could be cut.
FinCom guidance previously provided to department heads was in concert with the Personnel Board recommendation of a 2-1/2% salary increase for departments’ staff for FY10. FinCom had asked that each department adjust other budget items so that the salary increases could be accommodated with no change in overall budgets from FY09 to FY10. Concern was expressed lest the teachers’ union expect the 2-1/2% to be a “floor” for the next salary negotiation. Speaking in support of Town Hall staff, McKenzie said, “The whole burden [for budget cuts] should not be on those who get the least increase per year.” Committee member Barbara Bjornson said, “It is unfortunate that with companies even cutting salaries we are locked-in with multi-year contracts that don’t account for an economic downturn.”
Police and Communications
Police Chief John Sullivan said: “I have to work with the unions and with contractual obligations.” In particular, he tries to make appropriate use of nine part-time officers. They are not part of the union and Sullivan uses them to the extent possible to provide coverage for full-time officers who take “comp” time, vacation days or sick days. Nonetheless, if there is inadequate notice, or if part-time officers are unavailable, coverage has to be provided by full-time officers at an overtime rate.
Sullivan said that the Communications Department is now up to full staff and one remaining individual is completing training. (See “Carlisle’s dispatchers: working on the front line,” Mosquito, December 5, 2008, and “Dispatchers unionize, contract negotiations in progress,” Mosquito, December 5, 2008.) Sullivan voiced a concern: “We train them, but they can go elsewhere and get a few dollars extra and better benefits.”
Sullivan summarized his efforts to improve budgets and enumerated where cuts could be possible: “There are two grants out there for communications – 911 state training for $5,000 and 911 dispatch training for $10,000 that is funded as an assessment on your phone bill. There is also a ‘Click-It-Or-Ticket’ grant for $5,000.” He continued, “We could save $4,000 in education and even not support the school DARE Program. It also costs $5,000 a year to support use of a laptop computer in cruisers.” Officers would have to rely on dispatchers to provide information on stolen cars, suspect identification, etc. that they now get by use of the laptop.
Department of Public Works
DPW Superintendent Gary Davis observed that “overtime is not in the budget.” He said, “There was no budget increase for snow and ice removal in ’08 or ’09 and no change is proposed for ’10.” When asked about recent snowstorms he offered the estimate: “Each storm costs $5,000 if it happens on a weekend but it could be $10,000 if it happens during rush hour.”
Regarding other budget items, Davis said, “Police details will be a line item for $14,000. Previously that was absorbed in [the budget line for] road maintenance. We could cut back on some road maintenance.”
Fire Chief Dave Flannery said that as an on-call department, they are paid for training time but not orientation. He suggested that, although his training budget is the same as last year, some training time could be cut. He said that he has increased heat and electricity by $500 each but that the budget for building maintenance could be reduced.
Model objected to a possible “a la carte” override approach at Town Meeting: “I lived in California [where] every item goes to the voters – it is not fair to the voters. We should do the hard work.”
Ash said, “Things we have seen tonight don’t rise to override level [for the Annual Town Meeting]. We should quit nibbling around the edges.” He suggested that the Recreation budget is an “easy target” and should be put on as an override item.
When asked to judge the town’s appetite to support an override, Selectman Doug Stevenson, attending with Selectman Alan Carpenito, responded: “Anything over $200,000 would be a problem.” ∆
© 2009 The