By: Maria Moore
The budget for the upcoming fiscal year was center stage for members of the Board of Finance (BOF) at their recent meeting immediately following the Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting on Tuesday, February 9. Â Since some of the items on the BOF agenda had already been discussed at the BOS meeting, please refer to our February 11 reportÂ NH Schools Told… for details on agenda items discussed at both meetings. Â Following is our report of some of the items discussed by BOF members, with Dan Charest chairing the meeting until Ben Witte could get to there, about 10 minutes into the meeting.
Item #5 (a) Â Board of Ed ~ Superintendent’s Report, Dr. Philip O’Reilly
Whereas Philip’s report to the BOS had centered around the Board of Ed’s request for a Building Committee, his report to the BOF centered on the Board of Ed’s ongoing work on preparing a New Hartford Schools budget to submit to the BOF. Â Â Philip informed the BOF that the Board of Ed had requested a pay freeze from the various bargaining units and that the response had come back that “they were not interested.” Â The only union he hadn’t heard from was the teachers’ union, he said. Â ”When do you expect to hear back from the teachers?” Philip was asked, to which he responded: “I don’t!” Â He went on to say that at the upcoming Board of Ed’s special meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, February 16, they would have 5 scenarios before them, from 0% to 3% (increases in the school budget).
“You’re far along in the budget process not to have answers.” Dan Charest observed. Â Philip agreed, saying: “We’re assuming the worst and hoping for the best!”
With Ben Witte now having joined the meeting and chairing it, he went over a timeline he had drawn up for the budget to be ready in time to go to a town vote sometime in early May (date to be set). Â Ben gave March 13 as the date for the Saturday morning workshop when the superintendents of both schools and the First Selectman present their budgets to the Board of Finance. Â He then asked Philip if he’d be willing to present his budget (the New Hartford Schools budget) on March 9, during the regularly scheduled BOF meeting. Â Philip agreed, saying that he should be able to get his budget to the BOF members the week before the March 9 meeting so they’d have the opportunity to review it, as Roy Litchfield had requested all the budgets be made available to the BOF members before the Saturday morning meeting.
Note: Tuesday evening”s meeting of the Board of Ed was cancelled because of snow. Â Our reporter checked with the Superintendent’s Â Office today, she was told that the BOE meeting would be happening by Saturday, since several BOE members will not be available next week; we will post the meeting time and the agenda when it becomes available.
Board of Finance Chairmen’s meeting with Regional #7: Ben then reported back to his fellow BOF members on the meeting between Regional #7 and the chairmen of the Boards of Finance from the regional school’s member towns. Â Ben said there was a general concern that revenue would be less, with Barkhamsted projecting 10% less in ECS (Educational Cost Sharing) this year and 15% less next year, and they had asked for the budget to come in at 0% increase. Â Ben said that one idea proposed had been for Regional #7 to spread the calculation of how many students from any one town would attend the regional school over several years, to even out the impact that changing numbers in students attending the school would have on a member town’s budget in any one fiscal year. Â Dan Charest said he wasn’t sure if Regional could legally do that, since they had to report the number to the state. Â The word brought back by Ben was that there was listening going on by the group at Regional #7 and that, as Clint Montgomery (Regional #7 Superintendent) had told the BOF chairmen, the view that “those on the hill” (the Regional #7 administration) don’t listen is historical, that over the last few years things have changed.
Item #6: 2009/10 Town Government year-end projection update
First Selectman Dan Jerram, together with Annie Witte, the Town Bookkeeper, then went over this fiscal year-end projection. Â Dan said that the biggest thing on the revenue side was the lack of growth in the grand list; the growth is projected to be 0.13% which is about $20,000 of income, where historically they’ve had 1% in growth to work with. Â He also mentioned that a significant number of appeals had gone the other way, and that motor vehicles (revenue) was way down. Â There was also the question of whether the town would get the same revenue from the state. Â There was also a $60,000+ payment from the Clean Water Fund for the wastewater treatment plant which was no longer going to be received because of the USDA funding. Â Other projected reductions in revenue include short-term interest, $30,000 less, and Town Clerk’s fees, $10,000 less. Â There was also a projected $36,000+ reduction in the town aid for roads which Annie said no payments had been received yet and she was skeptical about them.
On the plus side for revenue there was $355,000 added to this year’s revenue; $155,000 of it was due to under-expenditures mostly on town roads, and the rest ($200,000) was from the collection rate.
Ben asked Dan Jerram to have what he sees for revenue from the town for the next meeting. Â ”We should have a ‘what if’ scenario, (there are) some tough decisions to be made.” Â Ben said. Â Board of Finance member Reggie Smith asked Dan that if there are any changes in revenue, the BOF wants to know “ASAP.”
Item #7: 2010/2011 Budget Discussions
Ben set the stage for a discussion on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year by saying:Â ”People are looking to hear what the BOF is looking for in spending increases. It didn’t make sense to talk about that before seeing were the revenue is. If you don’t have it, you can’t spend it.” Â Ben then asked for the BOF members for their opinions.
He started by reading aloud a letter from BOF member Jim Fitzgerald, who was travelling. Â In his letter Jim characterized the situation a being “very serious.” Â He said he was very concerned with the pictures from the two Boards of Ed, and “the alarm should be going off in everyone’s heads.” Â He said he was against any increases in taxes, and that any increase in taxes must have a cut in expenses. Â ”The situation is not a myth, it’s a reality. Taxpayers can’t pay, (there is) no revenue stream.” Â Jim ended by encouraging his fellow BOF members to hold to a 0% increase.
BOF members wanted to clarify that they were talking about a budget that didn’t include the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). Â The figure for the WWTP they said would be around $150,000. Â Reggie wanted to know whether that was still a 39/61% split (39% paid by the town, 61% paid by the WPCA) and Dan Jerram said he “hadn’t gotten the feeling that it would be other than 60/40%.” Â The question, he said, was whether the loan conversion was going to take place in 2010/2011 or in 2011/2012.
Ben again asked: “What kind of message do we want to send to the taxpayers?” Â Exclusive of the wastewater treatment plant because, he said: “everyone voted they will accept this new expenditure. That’s something we all signed up for, it’s outside the budget.”
BOF member Alesia Kennerson agreed, saying that on the town budget, Dan and Annie need to look at it line by line to see what they could cut. Â She said she’d like to see what 0% looked like from the (New Hartford Schools) BOE; Regional she didn’t know about. Â Speaking as a state employee, she said:Â As a state employee we all opened up our contracts, and all gave back. I don’t see why teachers wouldn’t be willing to look at their contract.”
Board of Finance member Dr. Bill Rieger said he ‘d like to see the difference between 0% and 3%.
BOF alternate member Roy Litchfield said he was leaning towards a 0% increase. Â ”Either bite the bullet this year, or double up and bite the bullet next year.” Roy said, ending with: “I have to go with 0 (zero) all the way.”
Reggie Smith said he’d like to see what the budget would look like at 0 (zero). Â He said he wanted to see the numbers with the WWTP. Â ”Do you see any money for economic development?” He asked Dan Jerram. Â Dan said he had a couple of projects at the industrial park, that he was working with David (Childs, Economic Development Chairman). Â Dan said he’d like to put some money into the Chip and Seal account, to pick and choose a few things. Â Reggie said he was concerned about the roads, that if they didn’t put money into them now, it could cause a real problem. Â Alesia said to Dan that she’d like to see him make cuts and funnel the money to roads. Â Dan responded that Bruce was completing his evaluation of the roads and prioritisingthem. Â He added that he wants to reallocate next year’s budget: “At $20,000 a mile that’s a lot of money.”
Roy Litchfield brought up the WWTP loan, making sure that it would be for 20 years and not 30. “Why do 20 years when you can do 30?” Town Treasurer Gordon Ross asked him. Â ”That’s what we agreed to.” Roy said.
Dan Jerram clarified: “0% to the taxpayer. Â If (we) find grant money, it’s OK.”
Ben agreed, saying “Expenditures need to match whatever we can come up for revenues. If revenues are 0 (zero), expenses need to be 0 (zero).” Â Ben said from what he’d heard, the message wasn’t strong enough. Â ”People should be looking at K-12 schools.” He said, adding that from conversations with teachers: “they won’t move.” Â Ben then referred to a chart he had at the meeting which showed that the average wage for a teacher has gone from $56,000 to $72,000 after only 4 years. Â ”To keep it close to 0 (zero) for more than a couple of years, you’ve got to do something different structurally. ” He said.
“How do we get them to come in at 0%?” Alesia asked. Â ”Just don’t accept it?” “I believe the BOF has the authority to say ‘Here is what your budget is going to be’. Â We do have that authority.” Ben answered.
After more discussion, Reggie proposed a motion for “A budget from all boards, commissions, etc. with expenses side no greater than 2009-10 FY (fiscal year) excluding the WWTP.” Â Discussion again went back to the Board of Ed. Â Ben asked Philip what the teachers’ wage increase was worth in the budget and Philip answered: “$200,000.”
Dan Jerram said that the benefits costs had a huge increase. Â ”Everything is going up.” He said, adding “It’s part of the elephants in the room.” Â Reggie said: “There’s a need for a real reality check.” Referring to his having been laid off twice, he said: “Town employees have been lucky, they have been pretty much untouched. Won’t say it’s coming to roost ~ something has to change. They have an opportunity to come to the table, they should be doing something.” Â All voted for the motion proposed by Reggie, with Bill Rieger abstaining.
Dan Jerram said they had some like-mindedness. Â ” We’ll try the best we can to finalize a two-year plan. ”
Ben asked Alesia, who with Laura Sundquist makes up the Capital Expenditures Subcommittee, Â if the subcommittee would have something for the BOF or whether they should do (the budget) the traditional way. Â Alesia said to go ahead and do it the traditional way.
Ben said at the next meeting they would look at capital to see what would be rolled over and what wouldn’t. Â Reggie said that projects can be carried over,Â that he’d like to see the board follow that standard, and not follow the thought: “that’s the way it’s always done.” Â Ben said it’s legal (line transfers), to which Reggie said that he’d like to Â have an actual document to show that’s true.
Other Items to Come Before the Board: Roy Litchfield ~ WPCA
Roy Litchfield, who is also a member of the Building Oversight Committee for the WWTP, expressed his concern that the WPCA wouldn’t be able to cover their costs. Â He said 8 out of the 10 past years they haven’t made any money, and that they’re not make all the moves now to cover their costs. Â Roy said that the 2-year construction plan for the WWTP was now being reduced to 13 months. Â Ben agreed that they needed to come grips with it. Â He said Bill Michaud of the WPCA was coming to the March meeting of the BOF Â and they would check in with him about the payments that would soon need to be made on the loan.
The road leading from the Ovation factory building toward the intersection with Holcomb Hill Road this past Monday, February 15. Photo: Maria Moore
Board of Finance Meeting
Tuesday, February 9, 2010 @ 7:00PM
I.Seating of Alternates
II.Adoption/Revision of Agenda
III.Approval of Minutes
a.1/12/10 – Regular Meeting
IV.Opportunity for Public to Speak
a.BOE/Superintendents Report – Phillip O’Reilly
b.Bookkeeper’s Report – Annie Witte
c.Treasurer’s Report – Gordon Ross
d.First Selectman’s Report – Dan Jerram
VI.2009/10 Town Government year end projection update – A Witte, D Jerram
VII.2010/11 Budget discussions
VIII.Other Items to Come Before the Board