Smith presents preliminary FY2016 budget
By Tom Reilly
Town Administrator Jim Smith presented a preliminary budget at Selectmen’s Feb. 17 meeting that reflects a total town budget of $29.5 million, roughly a 3 percent, or $923,000 increase over the last fiscal year.
The figures for FY2016 aren’t yet “solid,” he noted, as numbers for health care and from Blackstone Valley Tech are still undetermined. Smith said there is currently a deficit of $36,000 in his budget but that there were still unknowns.
In the current fiscal year, the last of the town’s two-year health insurance plan, increases were limited to 3 percent. At the time they were told that if they had not had that contract, the increase would have been 5 percent, the town adminitrator explain
“I think we’re due for a little bit of a hit,” said Smith, “but I don’t know how much at this point in time.” He said that he was budgeting healthcare costs at 7 percent highter than last year, though it could be lower.
Overall budget changes presented include $182,500 in department increases, mostly due to negotiations with the Teamsters and the police union. Smith said that these wages were set aside but that at some point they would have to be distributed throughout the budget. Smith was anticipating an $233,500 increase in the cost of employee benefits and this included the anticipated seven percent increase in health benefits.
The largest increase was in education with a $400,000 increase for the Sutton schools in the budget plus another $95,000 increases for Valley Tech and Norfolk Agricultural. Smith saidf that he was anticipating a 6.7 percent increase for Valley Tech. He said that this amounted to adding four new students plus and increase in net school spending. He said it was hard to know more until Governor Charlie Baker releases his budget early in March.
Smith then talked about what he called preliminary budget “big picture.” Even with the additional $400,000 increase to the schools, the Sutton public school budget was still “out of balance.” He said the budget remained anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000 in deficit, partly due to a late out of district placement for a single student which alone would cost the town $180,000.
He said that the town continues to pay down the new school project, now going into its fifth year. The town administrator said that this mean that 20 percent of the school was already paid for even before the school opened. He added that the town continues to reduce its reliance on free cash with the goal of eliminating this completely some time in the near future.
Smith said that the Governor intends to produce his budget on March 4 and added that Baker has promiosed to protect local aid from any further reductions. However, because there is a currently a deficit in this fiscal year, Smith said that he was level funding local aid for next year at this point in time. If the appropriation ultimately went up, it would be increased in the budget, Smith said. If this happened after town meeting approved the budget then the money would be added later. He returned to a theme he makes every year that both Chapter 70 money and local aid are down significantly since 2009. He added that this was in actual dollars there had been no adjustment for inflation. This meant that local aid has basically been level funded for the last eight years, putting a greater reliance on local property taxes,
Smith quickly ran through the revenues which include $20.5 million in local property taxes (up 2.76%), total state aid of almost $6 milion (level funded), local receipts of just over $2 million (up 8.71%) and $150,000 in free cash (down 16% from last year) for the total revenue of $19,549,855.
He said that new growth was budgeted at $160,000, the highest amount during his time in Sutton. He said that he still though this was conservative estimate based on the fact that the actual lowest amount of new growth during his tenure was $170,000 and that came “during the heart of the recession.”
Smith talked about some of the various ways that the town was generating extra revenue. There was $12,000 from renting the old Manchaug Library to the Pukkihuddle School. The health departments regionalization program under which town nurse Cheryl Rawinski provides health care services such as flu clinics to surrounding communities brought in another $10,000. The town also gnerated $54,000 in SRECs from the solar panels at the school complex and $40,000 from solar panels elsewhere in town.
The town’s capital plan came to $815,000 total with money going to the schools, the police, fire, highway and sewer departments. Among the projects are a new dump truck for the highway department, another truck for the sewer department and money to fix the town’s tennis courts.
Smith wrapped up his presentation by saying that on the positive side, the town side of government has a solid stablization fund (approaching $2 million), is funding the other post employment benefits fund, has a capital plan funded by the capital stabilization fund and is using limited onetime money for recurring costs. However, the school department was still struggling and relying on one time money to balance its budget and it is running out of those funds. He said that the town is doing everything it can to help the schools such as going out for additional net metering money and it is also negotiating with Constellation New Energy on a supply contract.