TOWNSEND — It’s going to be a tight budget year for the town, and it would help if the Finance Committee meets with at least those departments with the largest budgets, said committee Chairman Andrea Wood.
Townsend Fire/EMS and the Police Department topped Wood’s list of big departments.
“We’re going to wrangle through them big time this year,” she said at the committee’s Jan. 11 meeting. “We’re going to have to.”
“We want to look at different ways that we can look at the budgeting process,” said committee member Paul Concemi. “I don’t want fluff; I want data.”
There seems to be a “use it or lose it” mindset among departments, committee member John Whittemore said.
The assumption that departments’ budgets will be cut simply because they don’t use funds for a year is unfounded, Paul Nicoli argued.
“We’ve cut budgets, but never because people didn’t spend a line item,” he said.
Historically, the Fire Department used to turn in $40,000 a year from its payroll line, said Nicoli, but its budget wasn’t cut.
“It’s a very corporate mentality,” said new member Jennifer Langton.
Departments may be defensive about the budgets they have, Wood said.
“They’ve had so little for so long,” she said.
Town administrator Gregory Barnes suggested that the committee view the budgets by line item — the standard way government budgets are submitted — and consider working toward program-based budgeting which would eliminate or add programs, or pursue performance-based budgeting that would address goals and objectives.
Increases for health care, retirement and liability insurance are inevitable, said Barnes.
The Fire and Ambulance departments’ liability insurance costs will go up because they have had a lot of claims, but also to cover several new employees, said Wood.
Even with a new governor, Barnes said he doesn’t think that the state will provide much additional aid to municipalities.
“My gut feeling is that if there is any added state aid, it will go wholly in the form of Chapter 70 (education aid),” he said.
However, Barnes planned to attend Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget speech on Jan. 12.
Patrick’s plans for local aid have been a topic of discussion with several municipal entities during budget discussions.