FinCom says No; Final Decision on Override up to Selectmen

Published February 10, 2009 | Finance Committee | Automatically Archived on 3/16/2009

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The Finance Committee sent a firm message that in an unusually dire economy it is not business as usual when it voted unanimously last week to recommend a no-override budget for the coming fiscal year.

The decision whether to put an override on the March 30 ballot is now up to the Board of Selectmen, which meets tonight at 7:30 p.m.

The FinCom said it could not support an override until significant structural changes were in place to slow growth in compensation that eats up an increasing percentage of money raised through annual overrides. Even with a no-override budget the average tax bill will increase by 3.4 percent due to dwindling dollars in local receipts.

Cuts in state aid – $211,000 was recently cut from the second half of FY09 – and further reductions in FY10 aid, will mean a lean budget is stretched even thinner.

The FinCom approved a FY10 budget of $78,502,602 which includes $6.5 million in debt service. The operating budgets, including benefits, for the three major cost centers, are $34,449,183 for the Sudbury Public Schools, $18,048,030 for the town and $16,853,557 for the Lincoln-Sudbury School District.

The percentage of the total budget, excluding debt service, for the three major cost centers, are 48 percent for SPS, 23 percent for LS and 25 percent for the town.

The other 4 percent of the total budget is for debt service on town owned land, the capital budget, enterprise funds, stabilization fund and Minuteman Regional High School.

The FinCom is required by law to present voters with a balanced non-override budget and to make recommendations on all financial articles including an override budget if one is authorized by the Board of Selectmen.

The selectmen are the final authority on whether an override budget will be put before the voters on the town ballot or Town Meeting.

“The selectmen have asked for an opinion of the FinCom as to putting an override on the ballot for the March 30 election,” said Bob Jacobson, a FinCom member. “We are opposed now with what we currently know.”

That could change, said FinCom Chairman Chuck Woodard, if a unique collective bargaining situation in which all of the major union contracts are up for negotiation this year, results in contracts that slow the growth of compensation.

“Once the contracts are settled we have to sit down and talk again,” said Woodard.

The conclusion of contract negotiations would enable the FinCom to determine whether the new contract reflects “meaningful change in the cost structure of the budget, which will lead to ongoing, meaningful reductions in the Town’s structural deficit,” according to a statement drafted by the committee, and an override request that “is very specific as to the exact use of the proceeds.”

At a joint meeting of the FinCom and Selectmen on Feb. 4, Selectmen Chairman Larry O’Brien suggested passing over the budget article at Town Meeting and calling a special Town Meeting in May in the expectation that collective bargaining contracts will be in place and the town will have a better idea of state aid to the town.

Residents at that meeting included some who had signed a petition requesting the selectmen to put an override on the March 30 ballot. When officials explained that an override could go to funding compensation rather than preserving staff, some residents said they would support a Special Town Meeting later in the spring.

“I feel they were assuming it was business as usual. We need more money, we vote for an override,” said Jamie Gossels, a FinCom member of the override petitioners.

The FinCom also voted on warrant articles at their Feb. 5 meeting including 10 Community Preservation Committee articles totaling $721,000. Some project monies were approved at previous town meetings and need re-approval in the new fiscal year.