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Finance Committee FY10 – Budget Decision Delay

Black text is mostly objective, red text is mostly subjective in nature

We’ve had five FinCom meetings this year so far.  I missed two (out sick).  I only put up notes on some FinCom meetings, partly because of my time constraints, party because some of the stuff is just too dry to get excited writing about.  Tonight there was enough interesting stuff to write, so here goes the first FinComm post of ’09.

I think the most important thing we talked about was to not decide the budgets yet.  Ordinarily at this point in the budget cycle we’d have a bottom line in mind and a draft set of budgets that come close to that bottom line.  We’d be meeting with departments, reviewing the budgets, and getting them on target and sync’d up with general policy.  This year, we have draft budgets that reflect an increase in spending (higher than level funding, lower than level service).  The consensus is that the current expected revenues require a 1% cut in funding – our draft budget is out of date.  Additionally, there are a whole bunch of unknowns: the state has a couple different pots of stimulus money that have a real chance of affecting the town’s revenue.  There is a new chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, which makes local aid less predictable (and likely to be late in releasing a budget).  The Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) are likely to be larger because of stimulus spending.  There is a movement to increase meals taxes and return the money to state and towns.  When you look at the timeline and likely outcomes, the budgets are likely to change a half-dozen times between now and Town Meeting.

So, our plan right now is to wait.  We’ll meet with departments but not try to finalize any budgets.  Town Meeting will open.  Town Meeting will dispose of zoning and bylaw articles.  We’ll then ask Town Meeting to adjourn until late May or June.  We’ll finalize budgets in May with the departments, and then have Town Meeting vote on those finalized budgets.

We’re not locked in on this plan.  We may change our minds if other town bodies/officers recommend otherwise.  I think this is the right way to go.  There are so many variables, we’ll be chasing our tails making a budget this month.  We can reasonably expect most of the variables to be resolved by May, and we can write a believeable budget then.  I believe Town Meeting members will understand the logic.  It’s an unexpected inconvenience, but it’s the right thing to do.

In other business, the committee voted to table the vote on pay-as-you-throw legislation until the Selectmen have considered it.

The committee voted to table the Recycling Committee’s budget until after the Eco-fest so as to judge demand for compost bins.

Barbara Goodman came in and spoke to her request for home rule legislation that would, in the end, permit her to buy two years of retirement for her time as a school committee member.  The committee considered the proposal and voted unanimously to recommend against it.  There were a variety of reasons discussed.  

  • The committee would rather that  retirement benefits for volunteer positions be less available, not more common, and will not vote to expand it.
  • We should stick with the standing state law on the matter.
  • This is an example of the abuse cited by the governor’s blue-ribbon commission on retirement reform.
  • As a home-rule petition, the legislature would likely make Arlington accept the liability and pay for the additional retirement benefits.
  • Town Meeting can choose to grant a salary if it chooses, and it has not.

I made the motion on this one.  My arguments are mostly in bullet points 1 and 3 above.  In my mind, that isn’t work that makes you eligible for retirement benefits.  I don’t think that selectmen or the moderator should be elibigle either.  Pensions benefits should be reserved for full time workers, not volunteers who receive a stipend.

We heard a presentation from Jay Weinberger about his 13-year-long attempt to remedy drainage issues and water damage on Mead Road.  After hearing the story, the committee tabled the issue and asked for more information from the DPW.

We hear a report from Bill Shea of the Permanent Town Building Committee centered on the firestation rebuilds.  He wants to modify the language of the FY09 vote.  I pointed out he could do that if he got on the warrant for the Special Town Meeting, which is open tomorrow.

The Human Rights Commission was heard.  They reported on their activities of the year and asked for a level-funded budget.  We recommended level funding for them and a handful of other committees.

The minutes were approved.  A few other items were discussed without decision.  We adjourned early, at about 9:40.