FROM THE TOWN ADMINISTRATOR’S DESK
By Gregory T. Federspiel
The preliminary budget for FY2020, which begins July 1, 2019 and goes through June, 2020, was presented to the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee last week. A copy of the proposal can be found on the Town’s web site. Both groups will be reviewing the numbers between now and the end of February when a final proposed budget will be printed and distributed for voter consideration at the Annual Town Meeting the first of April.
The proposed budget aims to continue the current level of municipal services. Very few changes are proposed. Most of the increased expenses come in the form of higher capital expenditures as we continue to ramp up our efforts to catch up on a back-log of needed investments in roads, pipes and buildings. There are a few proposed boosts in staffing hours or consultants as we see needs to bolster our summer weekend patrolling of boater traffic, slightly increase the hours of the Conservation Commission office, and increase the attention we give to human resource management. The increased costs for these changes are covered by savings in other areas of the budget, notably less funding needed for employee health insurance.
On the capital side of the ledger, total expenditures of nearly $3 million are proposed. This covers a wide range of needs from repaving roads to a replacement DPW truck/plow, from improvements to our public safety radio system to new sewer pipes. No new debt is proposed; however we may see the first payment on the approved Memorial School project come due.
Overall, total expenditures are proposed to increase by 2.6%. This includes an estimated 3.3% increase to the School District budget. This is a preliminary number as well and it may well see some fine-tuning. To pay for these increases the tax rate would likely increase by 2.5% and new taxes from new construction would bring in the rest for a total of some $874,000 in increased funding.
As part of the budget packet that was assembled this year, department leaders have identified what changes would be needed to stay within a 1.5% increase instead of a 2.5% increase. Many departments are either already within a 1.5% increase or could make minor adjustments to come in at this lower increase. However, some of our larger departments would feel the impact of the smaller increase in the form of reduced service delivery. To get all town departments to a 1.5% increase or less requires eliminating about $169,000 of expenditures. Budgets are about choices – for example, could residents get by with fewer transfer station hours in order to save on their tax bill?
A review of this and other choices will be undertaken as work continues on the FY2020 budget. Also on the table for discussion is how best to manage the Town’s fund balance (free cash) and our local receipts. Our fund balance or “rainy day” fund has grown above our targeted amount of 10-12% of total expenditures. While it would not be prudent to use these funds for on-going operating expenses, we could consider using more of these dollars for capital needs and/or putting more funds toward retiring our unfunded retiree liabilities (pension and health insurance (OPEB) obligations) to take greater advantage of the compounded earnings such funds can generate.
The budget document is fairly large at over 200 pages but the overview and summaries provided up front give a good overview. You are encouraged to take a look and to provide your comments.