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Finance Committee on School Building, Rink, and Rec

(Black text is mostly objective, red text is mostly subjective in nature.)

Al Tosti had met with Town Counsel John Maher to review the warrant. There are a couple articles that the Selectmen endorsed that the Finance Committee voted down. The Selectmen appear to think that it is a good idea to pay down the OPEB liability aggressively (Article 26), and they think it’s a good idea to create a special fund (Article 28) to separate funds for town building rental. It will lead to a lively debate, I think. We didn’t get the whole way through the review before we moved on.

School Superintendent Nate Levenson and School Committee Member Jeff Theilman were present to talk about the school facilities working group report. He explained how “the rules changed” when the state changed from 2/3 reimbursement with relatively few constraints to 1/2 reimbursement with high constraints. The result is the Stratton school is unlikely to qualify for rebuilding for at least 10 years, and maybe 20. The state has determined that the Thompson is in significantly worse shape, and it will qualify for funding sooner. The amount and year, however, is still unclear.

The group is going to recommend that Stratton receive $150,000 of capital improvements per year for the next 10 years. That will keep the building up while recognizing that it won’t be rebuilt anytime soon. The Thompson will receive a similar amount for 5 years while the rebuilding timeframe is firmed up. There might be a minority report of the group that suggests that Thompson be rebuilt as soon as possible (12 to 18 months). This would be funded by bond anticipation notes that pay off interest, and hope/expect the state to pay soon enough that the tax rate is not impacted. My jaw dropped on this one; it sounds nuts. The funding mechanism proposal hasn’t yet been put to paper. Perhaps it will make more sense when there are more details.

The capital committee voted yesterday to fund Thompson at $120,000 to redo the bathrooms there. This was less than the working group had proposed, but appears to fund the requested items. The finance committee voted in principle to support the increased ’08 capital spending and the overall plan of keeping Stratton for 10-20 years and seeking a faster rebuilding of Thompson. The committee voted specifically to approve the $120k in borrowing for Thompson’s bathrooms.

There were some questions and comments about improving the relationship with Minuteman. There were questions about capacity and utilization of the current schools.

Next up was Joe Connelly. He started by reviewing the Veteran’s Rink budget. He explained the short-term financial plan is improving because the state-permitted rental rate is going up. It is clear, however, that the increases in rates will not be enough to cover the costs of the capital needs of the rink. The capital expenditures are required by a lease that, in a weird twist, no one has a copy of. I appreciate the clear statements about the rink finances, but I’m still very unhappy with the long-term financial picture. We should not have signed the lease without a plan. It’s been more than a year and all we have from the Town Manager are half-baked statements that the state or private donations are needed. That isn’t a plan. That is wishful thinking.

The recreation budget has a couple of flaws. First and most, it is running at a deficit. The projection is that the deficit will be smaller this year than last. The next problem is that the budget is “made” by people signing up in the spring (FY07) and paying money for summer programs (FY08) that is used to cover the previous summer programs (FY07). It was suggested that there be two sets of books – one that is for the fiscal year, and another for the program year. That might lead to better budgeting. Neither Rec nor Rink were voted tonight.

It was announced that committee member Ryan Ferrara was the proud father of 9-pound boy – mom and child doing well.

Dan O’Neill delivered several handouts including the pay and reclassification proposals. This was $40,000, much higher than the projected $5,000. This will likely be discussed on Monday.

There was a very brief discussion about the possibility of Town Meeting running 7:30-10:30 or on Saturday. It wasn’t clear to me where the impetus or intent of the change was.

Monday we will try to wrap up the remaining budgets and hearings, with the school budget on Wednesday. I’m a bit pessimistic. I think we have three meetings worth of work left, not two. But maybe it will go fast, we’ll see.


Pingback from Dan Dunn’s Podium » Finance Committee Nearing FY08 Wrapup
Time: April 10, 2007, 1:25 am

[…] The Recreation budget was approved as written. I’m persuaded by Director Connelly. I think he can turn the deficit around. […]