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Budget Shortfall Could Require Layoff Of Town Employees

Posted in: Falmouth News, Top Stories
Dec 16, 2008 - 1:00:33 PM

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FALMOUTH- Layoffs may be coming at Falmouth Town Hall, as town leaders struggle to come to terms with what Falmouth Town Manager Robert L. Whritenour Jr. said is a $2 million shortfall in the town’s coffers.
“It could mean targeted reductions in the labor force,” Mr. Whritenour told Falmouth selectmen last night.
Mr. Whritenour said he has estimated the shortfall after his first round of meetings with town department heads about the annual budget.
The shortfall, he said, is “primarily a function of proposed cuts in state aid and a lack of economic activity in the region.”
The town’s fiscal prudence, according to Mr. Whritenour, is what leaves it in healthy financial shape going into what will be a very difficult budget process.
Mr. Whritenour said he has been working hard over the past several years to limit the town’s spending and that is why Falmouth still has a good investor rating.
“We’ve never had a year with a big deficit. That separates us from other towns. I think we’re in a better position” to weather these financial challenges, he said.
But Mr. Whritenour said the tight budget is making for difficult meetings with department heads as they try to figure out ways to make cuts in already lean budgets.
“It is causing a great deal of stress. This is a very tough—emotional, in some cases—budget process,” he said.
Mr. Whritenour said it is important to remember that town government is a service organization, in which 75 to 80 percent of the budget goes to labor costs and labor-related expenses.
On January 1, Mr. Whritenour will present his budget to selectmen and he said it will be a balanced budget with no request for an override. He said the budget will also not be overly reliant on “free cash,” which are the town’s reserves.
“What we need to do is live within our revenues,” he said.
Selectman Carey M. Murphy said since the shortfall will likely continue, “it is incumbent on us to look at other sources of revenue.” He pointed out that other towns are looking at a short-term room tax as a way to increase revenues.
“That would be huge,” Mr. Whritenour said.
Carey Murphy said selectmen “need to make value decisions,” about how to balance the budget.
Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn said she has heard that state legislators are considering eliminating the need for a home rule petition in some cases, “because communities are looking at other ways to generate revenue.”
Selectman Kevin E. Murphy said times are tough for the average taxpayer and he agreed it is not the time to raise taxes. He pointed out that some large tax commitments have not even appeared on property tax bills, like the majority of the Falmouth High School renovation and debt exclusions passed last year for the Department of Public Works and the Falmouth Fire Rescue Department.
“Business owners are making 20 percent of what they did last year. This is one of those rare times we have to tighten our belts,” he said of the town budget. “We have to show fiscal responsibility.”