September 20, 2019

Why Are We Here? - The Misrepresentation of 1.32%

Posted by MichaelFleming

We all know by now we’re having record budgetary woes this year. As a resident and taxpayer of this town there is one truth that I’ve held from the beginning and still do today. That is that after last year, after all of us had our taxes permanently increased, we should absolutely not be here in this situation right now. After the May 13th Annual Town Meeting I became very interested in finding out why we were. What have I come up with?

We know by now the reasons that we had the 2 ½ Override last year. Our spending requests were over and above what was being appropriated annually, and for some years the budget was supported by funds that we can’t expect to have reliably each year like Free Cash which inevitably ran out. This scenario was not unexpected, it had been warned about in previous years. With no non-recurring funds left to prop up the crumbling walls of the budget, we needed to either increase our taxes or reduce budgets by making cuts. We the people of this town were sold on this increase by being led to believe it would solve our woes and set up our budgets for success in the coming years by removing the need to use non-recurring fund sources that won’t be there every year and eventually deplete. And it should have put us on that path to success, so why didn’t it?

At the same time that we were approving to fix our funding, the mistakes of the past were being perpetuated outside of our control. The School Committee had decided to use a massive amount of non-recurring funds in their E&D account (an account similar to a town’s Free Cash account) in the amount of $1.25 Million. Using such a large amount like that meant that it was very likely those funds would not be available from that same source this year, and that’s exactly what came to pass. Instead of having that same $1.25 Million to use from their E&D account this year they only have $500,000 that can be used, leaving a shortfall of $750,000. There was also an additional $150,000 in School Choice funds that can’t be used as revenue this year, leaving a total shortfall over last year of $900,000. Since the school can’t fund that $1.25 Million the same this year as they did last year where do those funds have to come from to maintain even a 0% increase to their budget this year? The answer is the towns. That is the reason why we’re in this whole mess. Their increase to the total budget over last year may only be 1.32% which by itself would be considered very reasonable by most measures, but that 1.32% that they keep talking about does not in any way properly encompass the $1.25 Million hole they and they alone dug last year. Budget vs. Assessment is what we all need to understand. This is the reason their 1.32% increase to their Operating budget resulted in a requested 8.1% Operating increase to our town initially. It was lowered a little after the Warrant printed and is now currently a 6.69% increase to the Operating assessment to our town. This reckless and irresponsible use of such a large amount of non-recurring funds by the School Committee sabotaged the funding we were voting to fix in the same fiscal year we were fixing it. Truly mind-blowing. They try to say this all could have been “fixed” if only they had some meeting with the Finance Committee, but the only way a “fix” could have happened would have been by cutting town services or benefits to support the budget that they artificially inflated last year and that was far outside the scope of what we voted on to support.

Boring numbers: The amount the School Committee tried to take out of our Stabilization Fund was $558,797. We pay approx. 62% of the school budget. 62% of $900,000 is $558,000.

When we voted to increase our taxes (AKA cut our own household budgets) at what has been no small amounts to us all, we voted for stability and a smooth road ahead. The actions of the School Committee in FY19 effectively took jackhammers to our nice new Budget Road and made a $1.25 Million hole in it. Then they have the sheer nerve this year to disparage the people and officials of this town for their own mistakes when their grossly irresponsible attempt to raid our Stabilization Fund to cover the situation that they created failed. The disrespect and misrepresentation of information the people of this town have been subjected to is staggering. Then they have the sheer audacity to attempt to subvert our votes on July 16th. I guess in a way they did the same last year too though. That’s not a precedent I’ll stand for.

Michael Fleming

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