Friday, December 17, 2010
Budgets generally in line for land boards, Board of Health
The Finance Committee (FinCom) has asked each committee and department to submit a level budget for FY12 and one that assumes a 2% increase. A budget with itemization of desired funding above 2% was also submitted by some departments. On December 13, the FinCom heard from several boards that the costs of salaries are the biggest factor in holding down budgets.
Conservation Commission depleting accounts
Kelly Guarino, chair of the Conservation Commission, requested a 2% increase to reduce the draw on two revolving funds which are in danger of running dry. The Intents Account is funded through state Wetlands Protection Act fees. A request is submitted to the account once per year to reimburse ConsCom salaries paid throughout the year by the Carlisle general fund. The second 53E½ account is for fees collected under the local Wetlands Protection bylaw which are then used to pay for assistant staff, equipment, consulting and other expenses related to wetlands protection. Management of conservation lands is another ConsCom task, and is funded by the operating budget.
Historically, each revolving account has run an average balance of about $15,000 to $18,000 but they are now projected to end the FY11 year at $4,000 to $5,000 each and will be exhausted in FY12 if the current trend continues. If the accounts run out, hours would have to be cut. Last year hours were reduced 20% for several months, and Guarino noted that although filings got done, less time was available to manage conservation lands. She said routine salary increases have put a greater burden on the funds. If the FinCom can increase the budget in FY12, the funds can be replenished.
Another source of revenues is to raise fees. Fees deposited in the Intents Account are set by the state, but the ConsCom can raise fees for services paid for out of the 53E ½ account. The commission is analyzing hours spent on each task and will be holding a public hearing to present recommendations for raising fees to recover more costs (see article, page 5, and at right).
With more funding, the ConsCom could also expand training and could set up an account for expenses, such as land surveys, that currently are not easily covered. FinCom member Dave Model asked Guarino to come up with a budget number that would protect the ConsCom accounts from further drawdown.
Planning Board – all salaries
Planning Board Chair David Freedman said that 99% of his budget is salaries, so there is no way to develop a budget until he knows what the COLA (cost of living) increase will be for the town. Step increases due to education and longevity will raise the budget about 1 ½ to 2%. Other expenses have been cut “to the bare bones” and the cost of legal ads offloaded to the departments that request them. Freedman estimated all expenses other than salaries at $1,000. Current salary costs are $77,500. Board member Marc Lamere noted there is no room to raise fees as “we are now on the upper end compared to other towns.”
In response to a question, Freedman said that a GIS system for mapping town properties has not been updated since 2004 and is “not really usable as a town database.” He said it would only be worth updating if it were used townwide for police, fire and assessors. In 2012 the state will require submission of a set of maps related to open space, and it’s not clear how the town will do this without the GIS. Administrator George Mansfield said that while the town was once on the forefront, “we are now behind the curve. Most towns have GIS,” he said, adding that many are capable of being accessed online by residents.
Board of Health (BOH) in good shape thanks to grants
BOH Chair Jeff Brem reported, “We’re in good shape as a board, as a staff and financially.” He added, “The community is also in good health.” He pointed to initiatives such as preparation for emergencies, flu clinics, community education on Lyme disease and training of a volunteer emergency corp.
“We’ve been aggressive in the grant application process,” says Brem. As a result, the BOH budget is cushioned by three sizable grants. One helps homeowners afford the cost of a new septic system, and the other two support emergency and medical response. All allow for some application of salaries toward the goals of the programs.
The current budget is $72,440.Brem expressed concern that the nursing program frequently exceeds its budget, sometimes by $15,000. In addition, the septic loan program ends this coming year, after which the board will lose the $6,000 subsidy in FY13.
Another concern is unfunded new mandates from the state. “We just found out we’re now the licensing authority for solid waste as of last July,” said Brem. He noted the state has not yet provided guidance on what this means. Operating in the dark, the BOH gave a temporary permit to the Transfer Station so it could keep running while they wait to learn more.
An analysis of the revolving fund shows that collections are in balance with expected payouts. The BOH returns 10% of its revolving fund to the town each year. The board is increasing one fee, but believes the rest of the fees it collects are priced appropriately.
Building Commissioner costs covered by fees
Building Commissioner John Luther says he is “pretty busy,” and as a result, fees are up. “We’ve already surpassed last year’s numbers for income” only half way through the year. Ten new homes have been built with others on the horizon. The department is paid directly from fees, with half the revolving fund sent to the town’s general fund.
There are a few concerns, including the need for salary step increases in FY12. In addition, the state has added new building codes necessitating new books and training for all inspectors. ∆
© 2010 The