Friday, October 2, 2009
Stormy weather forecast for town finances
“It’s not going to be a fun budget season,” predicted Board of Selectmen (BOS) Chair Tim Hult in a phone conversation Tuesday, noting that unless something changes, over the next three or more years, funds will not be available to continue operations in Carlisle as they presently exist. For the upcoming FY11, the poor economy means that, for a third year, there will be almost no increase in the town’s ability to finance operations. Add to that a higher assessment for Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS), and a bad situation becomes worse. “Without the high school we could get through this,” adds Hult. But ongoing shortfalls are now so likely, the BOS plans to appoint a committee to begin looking at consolidation or regionalization of some town operations. A joint letter from the chairs of the BOS, Finance Committee (FinCom), and Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) was published in the Mosquito September 25 asking for town input.
More Carlisle kids at CCHS
Under the regional agreement, the towns of Carlisle and Concord must pass the same level of budget for the high school, weighted by an assessment ratio that reflects the percentage of students residing in each community as of the October previous. Although exact enrollment numbers will not be out until October, as of late September, Deputy Superintendent John Flaherty at the RSC meeting showed a significant increase, roughly 2%, in the percentage of Carlisle students to Concord students this year over last. This higher percentage is expected to persist for the next three years.
At the joint Concord/Carlisle meeting of Selectmen, finance committees, and the regional school committee held Thursday, September 24, the Carlisle Finance Committee showed the expected assessment change will mean $370,000 added to Carlisle taxes, even before any operational increases. Each percentage increase in the high school budget will add an additional $56,213. It was noted a 5% increase in the budget for the high school would add up to an over $700,000 increase for Carlisle.
The presentation noted that a no-override FY11 budget in Carlisle would allow only a 1.21% increase in town budgets, even before the high school numbers are incorporated. With the additional high school assessment, it is anticipated some departments may have to reduce operations. Hult said a letter will be going out soon from the FinCom asking departments to weigh in on the impact reductions would have on their operations. When the results have been analyzed, the FinCom will release a guideline budget that will likely pinpoint some area for reductions.
Aid cuts drive up RSD costs
Unfortunately, in a difficult economy with dwindling state support, the high school is not in a position to cut costs either. At the RSC meeting, Flaherty spoke about the fiscal challenges for FY2011. The current level of funding from the state for Chapter 70 aid, charter tuition and regional transportation for FY10 is currently $2,169,720. The Regional School District (RSD) is anticipating a 10-12% reduction in state aid for FY11, roughly $260,000. “Circuit breaker” reimbursement for special education has been reduced from 72% to 40%.
To fill this gap, the RSD made several cuts in June, including reducing faculty by 4.75 full-time equivlents (FTE), while increasing student fees. Federal stimulus funding allowed fewer cuts to be made this year, but there are no stimulus funds for FY11. Based on FY10 numbers, Flaherty estimates $570,000 will be needed to fill the gap in FY11 due to the drop in circuit breaker reimbursement, but the actual number will not be known for months. With the reduction in state aid and circuit breaker reimbursement, the RSD could see over $830,000 in additional costs to the two towns over last year’s budget.
Hult noted the Concord presentation at the joint meeting indicated that town is in slightly better shape than Carlisle, and expects to offer a 2% overall increase. “They’re about where we were a year ago.” The Carlisle representatives made a strong case for holding the line at the high school, but the meeting was only informational, with no discussion or feedback from Concord representatives or the RSC.
CPA surcharge questioned
Given the expectation of a higher tax burden, an idea has been floated to re-examine the 2% Community Preservation Act (CPA) surcharge to tax bills. This currently adds to a fund for open space, historic, and affordable housing projects. At the minimum, some CPA surcharge would be required in order to pay back funds borrowed to purchase Benfield. The BOS will ask the FinCom to present taxpayer savings that could be realized by reducing the CPA to the minimum possible.
Hult cautioned that the pain does not end in three years when the high school assessment ratio is expected to return to normal. For many years after that, the town will be paying for the Carlisle School renovation, and, perhaps, a high school project to follow. He noted a few people responded to the letter in the Mosquito asking for ideas, and he encourages voters to continue to weigh in, “It will be a long process, with a lot of opportunity for input.” ∆
© 2009 The