Friday, December 18, 2009
Town considers job reductions, sharing functions with Concord
The Strategic Financial Planning (SFP) Committee has begun to move ahead with some reductions to town government while continuing their discussion of areas to recommend for long-term budgetary control. On December 9, they reviewed the ideas previously presented, putting some aside for more analysis, and passing others over to the Finance Committee (FinCom) for recommended inclusion in the FY11 guideline budget to be issued this week. Chair Tim Hult noted that “We are looking at a number of things” and not all departments discussed will be included in the final recommendations.
Dave Model, FinCom representative to the SFP, said that even with no discretionary budgetary increases over FY10, the guideline FY11 budget on first pass is about $360,000 short. Because the FinCom is required to present a balanced budget, any shortfall after a free-cash transfer and the 2.5% increase allowed under Proposition 2-1/2 must be eliminated through further cuts. Only after a balanced budget has been prepared may a recommendation for a levy-limit override be considered. It was noted the Concord-Carlisle High School has received some unexpected state aid and is being asked to reduce its budget request commensurately. This would lower the deficit by about $50,000.
It was decided that immediate short-term reductions be proposed, with more strategic and long-term cuts set aside for further analysis. Several departments will be told to find ways to shave operations in FY11: the police will see at least $7,000 in reductions, the Fire Department will be asked to absorb $10,000, and the DPW will see its budget guideline for FY11 down by $10,000. Other departments will be asked to reduce by a few thousand dollars. The Gleason Library will see support for collections down by $10,000. It was agreed that building permit fees should be raised from $11 per $1,000 to $14 per $1,000, generating $60,000 in revenue.
Long-term capital investment will be cut back to $214,000. Hult noted an energy committee is looking at reducing energy costs and may have some recommendations that would require raising the long-term capital expenditure level again. Barton proposed that if those investments are bonded, the expense of paying the bond can be matched with the cost savings as they accrue.
Staffing reductions possible
Beyond the short-term, the committee carved out several areas where operations might be shaved or efficiencies realized, but where further information or discussion is needed. Reductions in the police and DPW departments are under consideration, as is a change to police traffic flagging policy.
In the area of public safety, Town Administrator Tim Goddard reported that Police Chief Sullivan is meeting with former Chief Galvin to discuss “scenarios around a reduction of one” while retaining 24-7 police service. Barton noted the police contract is up for renewal in 2011. In addition to the usual requests, the police union will likely negotiate for the town to increase pay for officers with advanced education to replace lost Quinn Bill funding from the state. Goddard pointed to “general agreement that Dispatch be left alone,” and kept at five people. Within the Fire Department, the establishment of a new Advanced Life Support service may provide long-term opportunities for generating revenue to the town.
Two DPW-proposed reductions were also deferred for further analysis. DPW Superintendent Gary Davis has recommended that police flagging be reserved for major arteries and not minor roads. Davis will be asked to prepare a list of roads that do not carry heavy traffic. It is expected this change could save $10,000 per year. A proposal that DPW staff be reduced would result in the loss of one worker, as Davis would prefer to reduce hours across the board. This could save $40,000 per year but would require a long-term solution for deferred mowing and tree removal. Also, an additional contract for snow removal would be requested.
Reducing hours at Town Hall is worth looking at, according to Hult. Barton will analyze the possible savings and report to an upcoming SFP meeting. It was mentioned that some schools have saved funds by scheduling classes on four days a week instead of five. Barton will also look into whether changing school hours could affect costs significantly.
Combined COA/Housing proposed
The Council on Aging (COA) is currently interviewing for a new director, and a question was raised as to whether this position could be combined with another. Administrative support for affordable housing is currently a full-time position, and possibly could be pared back and combined with the COA position. Barton noted the number of COA programs has expanded dramatically, and there might be some that could be trimmed. The Friends of the COA could be relied on to support some activities.
Selectman representative John Williams felt “a combined position does make sense.” However, applicants were already being screened for a COA-only position. The town administrator is responsible for hiring a new COA director. Goddard said that about 12 resumes have been received, but because the ad did not ask for housing experience, none are likely to fit a combined position.
Hult underlined the importance of a vibrant COA and the opportunity for cost reductions in the housing administrative area. He suggested Goddard should think about how best to achieve them, and make a recommendation at the next SFP meeting. Later it was noted that Community Preservation Act (CPA) housing funds that might be tapped to help pay for a housing position.
Concord combos considered
A possible avenue for reducing the RecCom budget would be to regionalize programs with Concord. The Concord RecCom and Town Manager have been approached about this possibility and a meeting will be scheduled. A proposal to dispense with organic methods on playing fields has met with resistance.
The BOH is another area where combining some functions with Concord might make sense. Chair Jeff Brem also suggested approaching Westford about collaborating. Barton noted the BOH revolving account has been growing and some funds should be used
The effect of step increases on town employee salaries will add $7,500 to the budget next year. Other increases are unknown because the Personnel Board has only two members and cannot meet until it has a third member (see press release at right). David Freedman said some FY11 adjustments may be needed for departments heavily impacted by salary increases.
The CPA surcharge on taxes could be reduced. Currently the state matches 30%, however, it is not known what future matches will be.
Barton also noted that a Conservation Commission land acquisition fund, originally $100,000 has risen to $140,000. The fund is for action on land that may require quick payment. It has never been used. Barton will find out if it is still needed and ask that, at minimum, the $40,000 in accumulated interest be turned over to the town.
Although the high school is not part of the SFP purview, Model proposed that Concord and Carlisle should confer on special education policies to try to find a more reliable, cost-effective approach. The two towns have differing policies, and “that’s a good thing,” he said, noting it means a range of tested ideas to choose from. Williams suggested a consultant should lead the discussion, with Hult noting the inclusion of other towns would be useful.
The December 23 SFP meeting will be rescheduled. ∆
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