Sutton voters approve $27.8 million budget
BY JOSH FARNSWORTH
SUTTON – Town meeting voters unanimously approved a $27,892,488 budget for fiscal year 2014 Monday night, as well as $646,000 in capital plan items and an amended article calling for invasive plant control of Lake Singletary.
The budget is up 3.3 percent or $980,000 from this fiscal year. The budget includes $13,522,369 for Sutton public schools, a $525,000 (3.8 percent) increase. Town administrator Jim Smith noted in his annual report that despite this number, the school department will have to go through a few layoffs to meet its budget, but he is hopeful this is “the last year of significant layoffs.”
School committee chair Nathan Jerome praised the board of selectmen, town administrator and finance committee for their cooperation in presenting a strong budget, noting state mandates and other financial obligations that form a portion of the number. Jerome said he hopes residents become involved with the schools, which he said still deliver a quality education, but eliminating nearly 20 positions in recent years has eroded the ability to give kids that quality just a bit.
“We operate as lean as possible,” he said. “We want more residents to get involved and concerned.”
Voters unanimously approved an article calling for $646,000 in capital plan spending, including $210,000 to install solar panels on town roofs, such as at the senior center and fire stations, $70,000 to replace two police cruisers, $50,000 to help replace the roof at Waters Farm, $50,000 in school safety equipment, and $80,000 for self-contained breathing apparatuses for the fire department as part of a three-year, $240,000 plan.
Voters also approved $170,000 for the town’s Other Post Employment Benefits trust fund – $70,000 from free cash and $100,000 from the town – that Smith said would become “a significant burden to future taxpayers” if left unfunded.
The only item on the 17-article warrant with a split decision was the final article, asking for $5,000 to help eliminate invasive elements such as Eurasian Watermilfoil, Fanwort, and algae from Lake Singletary. Residents approved the board of selectmensponsored Article 16 moments prior, which approved $5,000 to help with the effort for both Lake Singletary and Lake Manchaug.
The finance and warrant advisory committee recommended residents not pass Article 17 – sponsored as a citizen’s petition from resident Richard Norlin of West Sutton Road – based on $5,000 committed in the previous article, which benefits both waterways.
The item asked in Article 17 was approved at previous town meetings for $5,000, and members of the Lake Singletary Watershed Association asked voters to consider its passage with a larger percentage of residents living on Lake Singletary, as compared to Lake Manchaug.
The article was first amended from $5,000 to $2,500 and then to $1,000 after town accountant Tim Harrison said the source of money for the article comes solely from boat excise taxes, which only had about $1,000 left after previous articles were approved.
The amended article passed 54-15. Smith said he and the board could plan to meet and discuss with the Lake Singletary Watershed Association this fall how equitable distribution of a similar article would work for next spring town meeting, if an article is to be placed on the spring 2014 warrant.