SHIRLEY — Aiming to provide a clear picture of the precarious financial straits the town is in and what they plan to do about it, the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen have been working together on presentations for the June 6 Annual Town Meeting.
At a joint session Tuesday night, the two boards discussed the presentation Finance Committee Chairman Frank Kolarik will make.
His intent, he said, is to address the major issues point by point, explaining terms such as functional deficit, debt exclusion and capital project debt exclusion and how those “concepts” figure into current plans and future goals.
Framed in the context of how things got so bad and where to go from here, Kolarik plans to give an historic sketch and talk about the cooperative budget-building process this year, in which the selectmen and FinCom collaborated to produce a balanced budget.
Next topic: the current budget. What’s in it, what is not and which items were cut to achieve “level-funding.” The list includes library hours, clerical assistants at the Town Offices, part of the Board of Health budget for trash pickup and many other items. It does not include public-safety departments such as police, fire and DPW.
Another major point Kolarik plans to bring up in his presentation is the regional school assessment and what will happen if voters approve the $4.7 million the Regional School District is asking for versus the $4.22 million the FinCom and selectmen are recommending. And what if they do so without making it contingent on an override?
The town is offering the lower amount as its required local contribution to net school spending, set by the state. Town officials say it is “level funded” and thus affordable.
The boards discussed several scenarios with various possibilities, mix and match.
For example, if the debt exclusion tax override the selectmen are asking for to cover a $220,000 to $225,000 deficit passes. Or, if it doesn’t.
If the municipal debt exclusion override passes, cuts will be restored. Unless, that is, a $4.7 million bill from the school district alters that plan.
Then there’s the schedule of events, as Town Clerk Amy McDougall pointed out.
For example, if the budget is out of balance at the end of Town Meeting, a special Town Meeting must be called to fix it, presumably after the result of the late-June override is known. But if the lower figure gets approved for the schools, or voters go for the higher figure with an override contingency, that constitutes a rejection of the assessment, McDougall said, in which case the regional school district process kicks in.
The Regional School Committee reviews the request, sends it back amended or not, and Shirley votes again. If the number stays the same and voters say no again, the next step is a districtwide Town Meeting. And so on.
Meanwhile, the town could still be dealing with a deficit that the higher school assessment doesn’t figure into, since the budget assumed the lower figure.
Town Moderator George Knittel asked how the debt exclusion selectmen are asking for will be explained to voters, since it is not presented in any of the warrant articles.
It will be part of Kolarik’s presentation, he was told.
As the conversation continued, there were concerns, choices, caveats, bottom lines, lines drawn in the sand that some would not cross.
Selectman Andy Deveau, for example, said he won’t vote to cut public-safety services.
Kolarik, on the other hand, said he knows of a “borough” of about 6,000 people (close to Shirley’s population) in Pennsylvania that doesn’t have a police department but relies on the state police.
They all agreed the cuts will hurt. Assessor Ron Marchetti said his office can’t function properly with a proposed $5,000 cut. “We had a five-year plan” that’s worked very well so far, he said, and the worker that $5K pays for is a key component, without which, the plan will not work. It’s important that people understand that, he said.
Town Collector Holly Haase, who would lose her part-time assistant under the budget cuts, suggested closing the Town Offices to the public if the cuts are implemented so the skeleton crew can work undisturbed. And so that people see and feel what they have lost.
The possibilities are not endless, even if they seem to be, and the situation is not hopeless, either.
Kolarik didn’t think so, anyway. At least not to the point of receivership.
When Deveau brought that up, FinCom member Becky Caldbeck reminded him that he is an elected official and as such it’s his job — not the state’s — to provide leadership.
Like Kolarik, Marchetti’s cloudy forecast was not without a ray of sunshine.
“We need help, that’s a fact, but we can bounce back,” he said. “It will take hard work,” and it would not be helpful to cut people who will do that work, he said.
Town Accountant Bobbi Jo Colburn raised a concern about cuts in staff hours for the purpose of removing employees from the health-insurance rolls. “If we don’t have the money, that’s one thing,” she said, but that kind of cost-cutting measure might not pass muster with the Department of Revenue.
Chief Administrative Officer David Berry came up with a “worst-case scenario” draft based on the $4.7 million school assessment. He plans to plug in more precise numbers later, he said.
At a glance, these suggestions — which include the current cut list — would not be well-received. Closing the Senior Center would save more than $31,000 a year. Shutting off all streetlights will save $25,000. Do not hire an IT manager, hire a vendor instead, save $23,000. Reduce town administrator (CAO) salary from $95,000 to $76,000. The list goes on, making cuts big and small to just about every department and service in town.
Berry said his cut list is not a proposal.
Selectman David Swain agreed. “This is just an exercise,” he said.