TA warns of budget issues after FY18
By Robert Fucci
Town Administrator Jim Smith began his FY18 budget presentation with good news: the budget is balanced.
But Smith, who gave his 10th annual presentation to the Board of Selectmen, said he sees problems for FY19 and beyond.
“We have to control expenses,” he said during the Feb. 21 Board meeting, “otherwise there will be a structural deficit. Expenses are exceeding revenues. We could have future issues down the line.”
For FY18, Smith proposed a budget of $22,371,208, an increase of just over $574,000 or 2.63 percent from FY17.
Overall budget changes include $237,000 in departmental changes, $498,000 in employee benefits and $355,000 in education increases.
“The School Department is getting closer to having a sustainable budget with good class sizes,” Smith said. This is the least I’ve given them over the last few years.”
Debt services will decrease by pairings:$102,000.
The total Capital Plan for FY18 is $243,000 for public schools.
The town has increased the School Appropriation by $350,000, allowing it to inch closer to being structurally balanced. Currently, it is $1.3 million over the required net school spending.
Healthcare is increasing by 13.3 percent.
“There’s a potential of $400,000 in costs,” Smith said, adding he’s working with the Insurance Advisory Committee to adopt a deductible plan. “This will lower our premiums.”
The town is looking to fund a new police station at the former Blue Jay site. At Fall Town Meeting, $500,000 was appropriated for owners project management services and designer services. Cost of the construction is slated to be about $7 million.
Smith said he eliminated the tree warden account and that DPW Director Matt Stencel will take over.
“He went to college in the forestry program at UMass,” Smith said, adding Stencel is working on becoming a certified arborist.
Salaries for six department heads have increased between $2,200 and $4,500.
The town is purchasing the emergency system Code Red for about $4,500. The system will alert residents through traditional phones and electronically via text messages and calls.
After the presentation, Smith continued to press on the town’s possible financial issues after FY18.
“Unless we cut costs or receive new growth, then ultimately we’re being challenged by this,” he said. “We might be back into freezing or cutting positions long-term.”
Board members praised Smith for the presentation, especially for alerting them of possible future issues.
“I appreciate the long-term view,” Selectman Jesse Limanek said. “Decisions today will impact tomorrow. Ultimately it may allow us to be in a position to avoid some of the dips that may occur.”
Chairman John Hebert said Smith should be praised for the work he and others put into the budget.
“It’s nice that you brought some awareness looking ahead, and we should be cautious,” he said. “But this year is because of you and your financial staff. Sutton is ahead of the curve on a lot of things.”
The FY18 budget proposal can be found on the Town of Sutton website: http:// www.suttonma.org.