Discussion and review of the Fiscal Year 2020 budget continued at the March 5 Board of Selectmen’s meeting, with Town Manager Norman Khumalo bringing the board up to date with changes made since the original budget presentation to the board on Jan. 29.
“In the weeks since then, I have listed carefully to the board’s feedback on the proposed FY20 budget,” Khumalo said. “I have heard loud and clear the board’s message regarding maintaining a modest tax impact increase.”
He specifically mentioned Brian Herr’s request for a tax impact net of new growth no greater than 2.5 percent, but after listing recommended reductions that goal was not met.
Reasons cited included an unexpected increase for Keefe Tech, due to a rise in enrollment, of $142,000, up from an original estimate of $16,000.
“I know that Mr. Herr has emphasized that we not touch the excess levy,” said Khumalo, “but given the news from Keefe Tech and the adjustments that we have already made, it is almost impossible not to touch the excess levy.”
The end result left a tax impact of 2.92 percent, a number that chief financial officer Tim O’Leary pointed out was an average, with differences dependent upon assessed home values.
Claire Wright was quick to point out that in addition to home values, how much money the town spends is a critical part of the equation. Board of Assessors Chair Mary Jo Lafreniere, also present at the meeting, said that usually when assessments go up, the rate will go down, but the rate is set by the amount of money that is spent at Town Meeting.
“To think that we are going to spend the same year to year, without reducing services, is difficult math,” said O’Leary.
Discussion by the board followed, with Brendan Tedstone saying he was concerned about seniors.
“But we’re here now to spend less. … We’re going to have to be a little more creative to get to that 2.5 percent,” he said.
Asked by the board what that would mean in terms of dollars, town staff calculated an additional budget cut of $287,000 would be required to hit the 2.5 percent tax impact, but where to make those cuts was not clear.
Hoping to move the budget process along and stick with the scheduled guidelines and dates established last September, Khumalo suggested that the board approve the recommended budget as presented, allowing the Appropriation Committee to begin its review with the understanding that he would continue to work with the schools and town departments.
When asked by Irfan Nasrullah if the board would have a second bite of the apple, Khumalo said yes.
A motion was made by Coutinho to move the budget to the Appropriation Committee with the caveat that the 2.92 percent would be worked down to 2.5 percent as much as possible, but Tedstone felt that was too broad.
Discussion continued, but with the hour getting late, Wright said it was time to make a decision. The motion was amended to forward the budget as is with a goal of reducing to 2.5 percent. The motion passed 3-1 with Tedstone voting no and Herr not present.
A second motion was made by Tedstone to direct staff to prepare a report on the possibility of an underride to be presented at the next Board of Selectmen’s meeting. The motion was passed unanimously with a 4-0 vote. If passed, an underride would decrease the amount of excess levy capacity, making it unable to be used to fund the FY20 budget.
The Board of Selectmen had another meeting scheduled on March 19.