NEWS: Town Meeting Budget Overview [with video]
Selectman Josh Degen presented a comprehensive overview of the town's operating budget in plain English, without resorting to financial jargon, so that all voters, even voters without familiarity with finance or the town budget, could understand where the money goes. Degen included a breakdown of the major department categories, the dollar increases and the percent increases of each.
The Performing Arts Center was packed with voters for the opening session of Annual Spring Town Meeting with a line of residents waiting to sign in as the meeting opened. The major draw was the proposed $32,048,878 town budget. The center was filled with parents, many with their children in tow, who were there to support the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District budget, which took some significant hits to make up for serious accounting errors in the district that caused a record school department budget shortfall.
Degen explained the actions taken by the town to meet the Groton-Dunstable School assessment request of $1,403.699. This included $377,975 set aside in the town manager's original budget; some $400,000 that was originally funded through the operating budget for construction of the new fire station was removed and voters had to approve a debt exclusion to fund the station construction; the use of the town's unexpended tax capacity of $325,724, and lastly $300,000 in cuts in the municipal budget - all in order to meet the million dollar plus school assessment.
Degen pointed out highlights of the municipal budget noting that the all the town unions are entering the third year of their three-year contract and with the two percent wage adjustment, the same increase is recommended for the three remaining bylaw employees for a FY2015 impact of $158,834. FY2015 is the second year of the employee performance incentive program, which when adopted eliminated steps and replaced them with incentives. Total cost for FY2015 is $34,018.
The FY2014 proposed operating budget fully funds police wages, fire wages and communication wages at the beginning of the fiscal year, rather than having to request reserve fund transfers to cover these in mid-year. Degen stressed that the town conducted a forensic audit of the Police Department base pay and overtime for the last four years and it shows that every year because it was not fully funded, those departments had to come back for more money.
Good news is that health insurance rates decreased by one percent, but that was more than offset by a 5.5 percent increase in county retirement and a seven percent increase in Medicare. In addition, Nashoba Valley Technical High School increased by over 22 percent due to increased enrollment of Groton students.
Degen closed his comments by advising voters that if the proposed budget for FY2015 passed, it would mean an estimated tax bill increase of $408 for a home with an assessed valuation of $400,000.