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Selectmen Rein In Spending For Bleak Fiscal Year Ahead

Posted in: Sandwich News, Top Stories
Dec 5, 2008 - 12:19:05 PM
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SANDWICH- Staring down a $1.2 million deficit for the coming fiscal year, selectmen last night voted unanimously to direct Town Manager George H. Dunham and school committee to build two budget scenarios, one that reflected a three percent increase in spending and another that reflected a two percent increase.
In recent years, selectmen have allowed initial budgets to be built on a four percent spending increase.
In addition to preparing those budgets, selectmen have asked the town manager and the school committee to prepare “buy back lists” so that if any additional money should become available, items that had to be cut can be added back in.
The discussion among the board members was brief last night and the members were more realistic than optimistic about how much money the state may be contributing to towns in the year ahead. 
Selectman F. Randal Hunt said it is safe to assume that, excluding Chapter 70 school aid, state contributions to the municipal budget are going to decrease.  Selectman Dana P. Barrette said the very best case scenario this year is that Chapter 70 will be level funded. 
 "We are $1.2 million under water.  Unless somebody has ideas of how to close that gap, the three percent increase we show here should not even be something we are suggesting," Mr. Hunt said. 
Chairman of the board of selectman Linell M. Grundman stated that the only options for bridging the gap was to cut services or put forward a Proposition 2 1/2 override question. 
Mr. Dunham said that the town could possibly get by with a three percent increase next year if it were to tap into its free cash account. Using the money in that account, however, would mean asking voters to reappropriate the $710,000 that voters at a Special Town Meeting in October approved spending to hire eight firefighters to reopen the East Sandwich Fire Station. 
That money, along with other money from the free cash account could cover this year's deficit.  Mr. Dunham pointed out, however, that if that option is chosen, then there will be nothing left to draw on in the years ahead, when the town is projected to have a $3.5 million deficit.   
Selectman Frank Pannorfi reminded his fellow board members about a suggestion first made by finance committee member William Diedering III earlier this fall to build two budget scenarios and to prepare buyback lists. 
"Use two different numbers and put together a buy back list.  As things change, make adjustments," Mr. Pannorfi said.
Ms. Grundman pointed out that at a recent school committee meeting, that board had said that anything less than three percent would seriously hurt the schools. 
"We have to prepare a balanced budget for Town Meeting.  We can talk about an override but we still have to have a balanced budget, even if that override doesn't pass," Mr. Hunt said. 
He went on to say that the $710,000 in certified free cash along with $500,000 from the stabilization account to pay for capital improvements could be used this year but there will be nothing left to cover any shortfalls in the years ahead. He said because the certified free cash represents one time money, in other words a non-recurring source of funds, money that the town earned through the sale of some tax title properties and money that the town saved when it received a one month hiatus on its health insurance bill one year, once the money is gone, it's gone.
"The heartburn that I have is that you're using [all of the] free cash to make it work and that doesn't bode well," he said.
He suggested that by building a budget that reflected two percent this year, it spreads the cutbacks out over a period of two years.  At the very least, he said, the board should see what a two percent budget would look like and what a three percent budget will look like. 
"We should resolve this thing tonight and start working on the details," said Mr. Pannorfi.
With that said, the board voted to request the two budget scenarios and the buyback lists.
According to the town charter, Mr. Dunham and the school committee must have their budgets finalized and in the selectmen’s hands no later that February 1. Selectmen are required to forward a final budget to the finance committee by March 1 after which the finance committee must take a stand on the budget no later than March 24.
Town Meeting gets to have the final say in the matter when it votes the budget at the May Annual Town Meeting.