SHIRLEY — With the budget process beginning soon, Finance Committee Chairman Frank Kolarik said Monday night the only change of note, for now, is in the schedule. The deadline for submitting department budgets moved from January to the end of February.
Jan. 30, however, is still the deadline for turning in capital-improvement requests, per a town bylaw tied to the Capital Plan.
In general, requests must be received as soon as possible, so that Finance Committee members can review them and make recommendations on the warrant for annual Town Meeting, set for May. But in this case, members said, the later the date the better, given the uncertainty of the state budget.
As a result, communities throughout the state are bracing for local-aid cuts.
According to town accountant Bobbi Jo Colburn, Shirley could lose $105,000. The estimated total was from a one percent cut in “unrestricted municipal aid,” plus anticipated loss of MCI prison mitigation money previously promised by the Legislature but not yet received.
Colburn figures it’s gone, as it typically arrives by the end of October, she said. In her view, the delay does not bode well for the town’s prospects for getting it now.
Mike Swanton said he’s concerned that Special Town Meeting allocations were based on local-aid projections that now look more visionary than real. Worse, departments have incorporated those added dollars into their budgets and started spending the money.
“You could wait and see or go for a more fiscally prudent strategy,” he said. “As in, someone should call (state) Sen. (Jamie) Eldridge’s office for an update before things get worse.”
“We’d be fiscally foolish not to take action now versus waiting until the last minute,” Swanton continued. “I think we should make a statement to that effect.” That is, knowing that the state is about to issue cuts, it’s best to act accordingly now.
Colburn said the Department of Revenue has not issued any guidelines. But Swanton suggested that Chief Administrative Officer David Berry could send out an advisory, in effect calling for a moratorium on discretionary spending until the town has a handle on upcoming state cuts.
In any event, departments will be asked to submit level-funded budgets for fiscal 2014, which begins July 1.
The Finance Committee stated its case in a draft memo dated Monday, which notes that a budget deficit is “again” being projected for fiscal 2013. Management decisions should be based on priorities as the “deficit-resolution process proceeds,” the draft memo reads, in part.