TOWNSEND — The Finance Committee reviewed the warrant for the tentatively scheduled Nov. 14 special Town Meeting. They made recommendations on some and tabled others until their next meeting.
Town Meeting will be held the day after a special town election with only one item on the ballot, the school override for the North Middlesex Regional School District.
The board was not always in agreement during the Oct. 25 meeting.
The committee was tied on whether or not to support an article to form a separate water district.
Speaking against the article, member Jason Vellen said, “It’s a department that’s part of the the town and should be answering to the selectmen like any other department.”
Member Nancy Rapoza agreed with Vellen’s reason and also said, “There’s no compelling reason it would be good for the town.
The article will be discussed again when member Gini King is able to attend. Carolyn Smart, the billing clerk at the Water Department recused herself, Chairwoman Andrea Wood and member Colin McNabb voted in favor.
The committee unanimously recommended putting $400,000 into the capitalization stabilization fund if the school override is passed at the town election. Half the sum is intended for general capital expenses, the other half for the fiscal 2015 payment due on the Spaulding School roof, Wood said.
A second recommendation to place $315,000 in capital stabilization if the school override did not pass generated discussion.
Smart suggested using $100,000 for operating expenses. Vellen suggested using $85,000 because potential savings in trash pickup costs would be about that amount.
“I’d compromise,” Smart said.
“It would reinstate salaries, not overtime,” Wood said.
“I object to us looking at this because of the salaries. We’re foolish to change the $400,000,” Rapoza said.
“There has to be an explanation of why the Board of Selectmen are recommending $400,000 and we’re recommending less. It’s going to be really confusing,” she said.
“Maybe I should make two recommendation sheets,” Wood said, one for if the override passes and another if it does not.
If the money in capitalization stabilization is needed for another purpose, it could be used, Wood said.
“It’s against the law to earmark a stabilization fund. If we had a huge emergency, all that money could go to that,” she said.
If the override does not pass, the committee will support placing $315,000 into capital stabilization. Rapoza was the lone dissenter.
The committee did not recommend an article to hire a consultant to evaluate changes to the town’s employee health insurance program.
Sending health insurance out to bid is not a complex thing, Smart said when speaking against the expense.
Rapoza was alone in voting to support hiring a consultant. “I just think it makes sense to have expertise,” she said.
The committee agreed to wait to discuss the two budget articles. One is intended to be used if the override passes at the election, the other if the override fails.
“I don’t have all the sums yet. The board hasn’t formally voted on the scenarios,” said Town Administrator Andy Sheehan. The board should discuss the figures at their Nov. 6 meeting.
Discussion became heated between Sheehan and Smart when they discussed the state of Townsend’s budget.
The compensation and classification plan that increased employees’ salaries led to increased costs for the town, Smart said.
The current budget shortfall is not due to the pay matrix that was funded by the tax levy but because the town did not pass an override for the school district,” Sheehan said.
“You’ve been railing about a structural deficit for years,” he said.
A structural deficit was projected several years ago and the employees agreed to increase their health-care co-pays rather than take furloughs to cover the deficit, she said.
Smart said Sheehan has not provided projections as requested like the previous town administrator did.
“You’ve been saying since you’ve been on the Finance Committee that we have a structural deficit. It’s incorrect,” Sheehan said, “We have not had a structural deficit since I’ve been here.”
“It’s not true,” Smart said.
Wood broke up the discussion. “I make a motion that we take up the fight at the next meeting,” she said.
The committee agreed on all the other articles:
* Recommended amending the capital plan to fund a meter-reading improvement project.
* Recommended placing no money into the stabilization fund.
* Recommended transferring $893 to supplement the fiscal 2013 assessment from the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health. “It’s contractual,” Wood said.
* Recommended a transfer for training within the Police Department budget. The money was in their budget but in the wrong category, Wood said.
* Recommended a $40,000 supplement to the Employee Health Insurance Fund to cover two new employees.
* Recommended an additional $5,307 to cover an amendment in the Highway Department collective-bargaining agreement.
* Did not recommend a $1,950 increase to the police chief’s salary. Recommended a $200 increase to the chief’s clothing allowance.
* Recommended $500 for the Finance Committee budget.
* Recommended $3,300 for professional services to cover the cost of the Nov. 13 special election.
* Recommended an article that would allow $50,000 in ambulance receipts to be used in the Fire Department/EMS budget.
* Recommended changes to two sections of the Townsend general bylaws and adding another as submitted by the Conservation Commission.
* Recommended approving $52,775 for land purchases by the Conservation Commission. The money will be reimbursed to the town, Wood said.