The school committee and the budget planning committee that acts as advisory to Town Manager Chris Senior’s, voted in favor of Senior’s total town-wide budget of $27,442,620, that allots $16,957,496 for the schools and $10,485,124 for the Town. Peter Pescatore, chair of budget planning voted no. (Pescatore is also chair of the advisory committee.)
The advisory committee and the selectmen have not yet voted on the budget.
Last December former acting town manager Mike Milanoski left what he called an early Christmas present for the selectmen. Milanoski’s proposed budget, with no backup, was more like a poisoned apple. Milanoski promised the schools $800,0000 of the excess $1.181 million available for the FY 2015 operating budget and the schools immediately accepted his proposal, although no board had voted on Milanoski’s proposed budget.
Pescatore’s advisory committee met with Senior 3-12 at which time Pescatore and several others on his committee voiced their disapproval of the manner in which the free cash was being appropriated and expressed his concerns about many upcoming debts:
Pescatore said he was worried that the town hall renovation was not shown in the current debt service. “The five year spreadsheet does not assume town hall renovation,” Pescatore assumed it would become a $10M bond issue. He was also worried about the Town’s ability to pay for everything with decreased revenues showing up as soon as FY16.
The renovation committee is submitting a $667,750.00 article to Annual Town Meeting to create building specifications. The construction estimate is $10-$11.8 million to tear down the new portion of town hall and build a new one. The Town Manager will develop a plan to find new homes for town hall departments. It is estimated that it will take a year to build. According to Pescatore, Senior already has a model and this portion of the renovation fits into the existing forecast without an override, as current debt service is dropping off. Advisors voted to advise selectmen to make this article a separate article.
Advisor George Chamillard said he was concerned about the upcoming operating costs of the soon-to-be-built Senior Center. Senior responded that he had no hard numbers on that. “I’m amazed that it will be built in 12 months,” adding that in 12 months the Senior Center will not be located in the community center. It will either be in its new home or in a rented home. Senior added that there were a lot of ways to fund senior services and that other resources were available.
Pescatore is also concerned about revenues. “The allocation for departments last October was $626,000 which is now $1.81 Million – resulting in a $4M increase for the current year. I don’t see $4M in your numbers.”
Senior assured Pescatore that the numbers in his budget were real and that the FY16 budget would not be in spreadsheet form and would be more understandable. “We’re coming out of a recession with a lot of unmet needs. There has been a 120-student increase of students over the past several years, and a spike of home sales. “People are coming to this area and they’re having kids. These revenues are real and I believe they will continue to rise.
Pescatore disagreed. “The revenue number was $938,000 and now its back up to 1.3M. “I continue to be opposed to this budget for a lot of reasons; it puts money into base, it brings us to a crossover point where have to start making decisions about services in this town. The Revenue and Costs line overlap. I remain unconvinced that this much money should go into the base. Historically we designated $600,000 to be allocated between the town and the schools.
Pescatore added that according to his calculations there were only 16 new students in the school’s plan for next year and that free cash should be six figures. Pescatore said he’s heard this school overcrowding story before. “They have difficulty spending their budget, they have to find creative ways to spend it. They’re holding aside their circuit breaker money that should be deducted from their budget. My point is, we should not take one-time money and put it into the base. It will have to be replicated every year. Two years in a row the Town has turned back $400,000.”
In a phone interview Pescatore had even more to say about the schools. He noted that the town had given the schools $600,000 for desktop computers. “Every teacher has a laptop, they have computers coming out of their ears. Now we’re giving them another $720,464. At the end of 2013, with three months let to go before the end of the fiscal year, the schools spent $2 Million in March (not including salaries) and then they spent another $2 million. They didn’t buy operational things, no, they bought every teacher a laptop.”
Senior said he would be moving retirees to modified plans that would result in savings and the town would be moving towards putting retired teachers on a 50/50 health care plan.
As for new personnel, Senior said positions talked about were a police officer, an HR person and possibly someone for the board of health. “There are a lot of conversations to be had. In New York we assigned a staff member to a new building. That person had to know it from top to bottom.” Senior noted that there might be two new buildings to monitor, a new Senior Center and the Town Hall renovation.
Senior said that his observation was that a lot of the Town’s expectations were not supported by facts.
Advisory chair Nan Roth said “We’re from a little town with modest expectations with a huge infux of new people with higher expcations, and it’s push and pull.”
Senior is working on a new website now. “We will have a free one that will show water and sewer maps to which we can add additional town layers, and we can put financial information on the site.”
Advisor Lee Jenkins said he would like to have a new phone system. “If we can address something in the interim, we should explore it,” Senior agreed, saying he can’t call anyone in town internally.” When I’m working at night, and there may be call for me, I can either answer every call or I answer none.” When Senior said the town should have a scanner for cars at the dump and for parking tickets, Jenkins came alive (this is his favorite subject).© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed