The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 5, 2009

Board of Selectmen weigh financial challenges

Financial issues continue to spark major concern at the Carlisle Board of Selectman as evidenced once again at the meeting on Tuesday, May 26.  The board discussed how the decreased state funding will impact the already approved budget at the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS). Selectmen speculated that future state aid cuts may affect partial reimbursement of the town’s planned school building project. The Gleason Library and phase one Highland Building renovation projects have been approved and funded; however, reduced state contributions to community preservation funds could affect future projects, such as additional Highland Building renovations.

Former Selectman John Ballantine, Brandeis economics professor and New England Economic Board member, updated the BOS with the “bad news” about declining state revenues. Despite the proposed increase in sales tax and an added gas tax, he expects the state coffers will still come in short “two to three billion dollars” this coming year. Furthermore, he predicts, “The economic recovery period is at least two to three years away.”

Ballantine projects a 10% decrease in state funding to Carlisle (estimated at $1.5 million) in the next year, with a greater impact to non-essential projects. Ballantine elaborated that there are certain areas such as health insurance coverage that the state will not be able to cut, so financial cuts will not be made evenly in all areas. He anticipated the cuts could extend as high as 20% of local aid. Selectman Chair Doug Stevenson noted that Carlisle’s strong financial position will enable it to weather the state funding issues better than other communities which depend more heavily on state aid.

Finance Committee (FinCom) Chair David Model highlighted town finances as an important post-Town Meeting issue, where the residents gave the green light to a school building project and Highland Building renovation. He requested time on the Selectmen’s agenda for two upcoming meetings and will meet with them again on Tuesday, June 23.

High school budget shakes up planning

Model noted that the town may feel the impact most in the coming year with the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) budget. The state looks to greatly reduce “circuit breaker” funding (ameliorating Special Education costs) and regional transportation funds. The impact has already resulted in proposed, limited layoffs and will result in a more stringent review in awarding contracts to teachers in the coming year.

In fiscal year 2011, however, the Carlisle share of the CCHS enrollment will grow and as a result, Carlisle’s percentage of the high school budget will increase by about a half million dollars. The FinCom seeks additional meetings over the summer to plan ahead.

Stevenson called for a “combination of strategies” to combat the projected increase in costs. Those discussed at the meeting include tapping free cash, increasing regionalization of combined services between Concord and Carlisle, and higher taxes. Model encouraged the Selectmen to look at a possible reduction in town services, which he said was an issue the FinCom did not feel in its purview to address.

Stevenson expressed reluctance to touch the town’s already limited services, and noted, “We can close Town Hall for a year and won’t recoup that money!”

Hult praised the town’s wise budgeting over the years and noted that reserves were available to handle these “one time” budget issues. According to Treasurer Larry Barton, by July 1 Carlisle will have amassed over $1.1 million in free cash and just under $1 million in the stabilization account, or “rainy day” fund. The town can spend free cash with a majority vote at Town Meeting; the stabilization account requires a 2/3 vote.

In three years, the Carlisle percentage of the high school budget will decrease to previous levels. If tax increases should need to be proposed to the town after other options were exhausted, Hult felt encouraged by the recent Town Meeting in that “we have an informed electorate.”

At the conclusion of Ballantine’s presentation, Selectman John Williams rhetorically asked him, “Don’t they call economics the ‘dismal science?’” ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito