.By Don Eriksson
TOWNSEND — With just 20 more than the 75-resident quorum present, Annual Town Meeting voters on Tuesday approved a $15.84 million fiscal 2010 budget that includes a slightly increased $9.04 million cost for education.
Voters addressed 21 warrant articles plus three more on a Special Town Meeting warrant in just under two and a half hours.
The budget recommendation had trimmed $585,000 from 2009 levels before a late-breaking notice that state aid might be cut about $106,000 more than anticipated.
Part of the unexpected deficit was reduced when Town Meeting approved creating a Facilities Maintenance Department that would effectively do away with local cleaning-and-maintenance services that carried a $36-per-hour cost plus benefits in favor of outsourcing and consolidation. Savings would occur despite the addition of 24,000 square feet of new library and senior-center space being donated by Sterilite Corp., Town Administrator Gregory Barnes said.
A level-funded North Middlesex Regional School District budget actually dropped Townsend’s 2010 assessment by $115,500, but its share of the Nashoba Valley Regional High School increased by $198,724.
It was suggested that the technical high school could re-evaluate its finances since the North Middlesex Regional District is closing two schools to meet its level-funded promise. It was also suggested that now might be the time to bring technical education “inside” the North Middlesex district communities.
Nashoba Superintendent Judith Klimkiewicz explained that $179,000 of the increase is due to the minimum assessment set by the state. Student population has increased by 17 percent, she said, and the cost per student has decreased $800 since 2008 despite member towns having the second highest median income in the area that is used in the state-set assessment formula.
Nashoba is not at the state-set foundation level, she said, and the school has taken $1.2 million from cash reserves and money from its accreditation account to meet the budget being sought.
“If we get stimulus money we can re-evaluate the $17,000 that is over the $179,000 state minimum,” she said.
Klimkiewicz said one academic and one technical staff member will be cut, the school’s maintenance staff will stay whole and staff members lost to attrition will be replaced with less experienced and thus lower-salaried staff members.
The only other section of the budget to be questioned at any depth was a $13,000 increase in the accountant’s department and a zero-funded Management Information System coordinator’s position.
The accounting increase will pay for an audit. Barnes said the eliminated MIS position could be recreated at any time. Contractors will be used in that department also.
Creation of the Facilities Maintenance Department was a bylaw change and was not so easily won.
Existing custodial and cleaning personnel would be transferred to the department without loss of pay or seniority. However, the move does not preclude elimination of the local jobs after July 1, when a maintenance coordinator’s position would be created and routine cleaning tasks could be outsourced.
Warren Stevenson arguing that “outsourcing is bad for America and this town,” amended the article to eliminate the words “or outsourcing routine cleaning tasks.”
Selectman Chairman David Chenelle argued that considerable money would be saved if left as submitted.
Barnes said he didn’t believe removal of the phrase would preclude outsourcing.
“We’ve got to look closely at the core mission of our town and focus on savings,” he said. “Privatization and regionalization must be embraced to get out of this (economic downturn). It’s time-tested and true. This is not abstract.”
Barnes said library trustees, highway workers, police, fire and the Council on Aging have signed off on the idea.
Stevenson countered that the use of fear mongering to allegedly save money is a common argument. “We could outsource police communications for example,” he said. “The town should act on principle.”
A request to move the question kept argument on the amendment. Fred Wheeler wondered if projected savings are reflected in the proposed budget. They were.
Town Meeting was recessed for 10 minutes so additional information could be presented.
Barnes said an additional 25 hours of cleaning services would need to be added without outsourcing the maintenance. He said that new ideas must be embraced and that so far, eight contractors have been interviewed. Other towns are outsourcing, he said, and as an example, added that the city of Leominster gets all its cleaning done for $100,000.
When the meeting reconvened, Barnes argued that $19,000 would be saved despite the additional square footage that will come with the new library/senior center.
The question was moved from the floor and Stevenson resumed his “keep it local” argument.
Steve Cloutier said Townsend has been outsourcing many functions for a decade and if one contractor doesn’t work out, another can be hired.
The question was moved again and the amendment failed on voice vote. The main motion was moved from the floor and passed loudly.