Smith presents balanced budget to Board of Selectmen
By Tom Reilly
Town Administrator Jim Smith told Selectmen at their April 7 meeting that late numbers that the town has received has allowed him to present a balanced budget for 2016, primarily through negotiations with the town’s insurance advisory committee on health care plan design changes.
Ultimately the health insurance cost increase was reduced from 11 percent to six percent, Smith said. He thanked the unions for working with the town to achieve these cost savings. The overall increase to the cost of healthcare came to $128,000, Smith said.
Smith said thanks to all of this he was able to balance the budget at $29,549,855— the same number posted back in February, representing a 3.22 percent increase over the current fiscal year.
The school appropriation was increased by $448,000. This represents the $400,000 that he already planned to send to the school, $24,000 freed up in tuition to Norfolk Agricultural now that one of three students has elected to stay locally, and another $24,000 from healthcare plan design changes. He described the school budget as still being “in flux,” noting that there were hopes that additional money could be saved by reducing energy costs.
Smith said that the town would continue to pay down the debt on the new school project (now in its fifth year) and continue to reduce its reliance on one time revenues with the goal of eliminating free cash. Smith said that right now free cash was at $150,000 and he hoped to get it down to zero in the next couple of years.
He noted that he has level funded state aid as the state budget process continues and said any final adjustments to the budget would be made at fall town meeting.
As far as the enterprise funds were concerned, sewer user fees would stay the same while the cost of a sticker at the transfer station would be the same as last year, Smith said.
The overall capital plan came to $815,000, Smith said, and it was predominantly funded through free cash. Chapter 90 funds came to $140,000—enough to help purchase a new ten wheel vehicle for the highway department. Sewer retained earnings would be used to purchase a new generator down at Blackstone Street, Smith said. The tennis courts would cost $200,000 and would be paid off with a three year note.
On the postive side, Smith said the town side of Sutton has a solid stabilization fund, is funding the other post emploment (OPEB) trust fund, has a five year capital plan funded by the capital stabilization fund, and has greatly reduced using limited one time money for recurring costs.
But the school department is still struggling, he said, partly because of the new middle school/high school coming on line. There was an increased property/casualty insurance cost $39,000 in bringing the new high school on line. Smith said that there also discussions about needing an additional custodian as well as other costs.
“We’ll get through this year but we’ll still have to figure out what the long term picture is for the school and the town,” Smith said.
News and Notes: The Finance Committee had endorsed all 18 articles on the Town Meeting warrant and Selectmen voted to approve it.
Selectmen also signed a contract for the sale of the now surplus modular classrooms to Triumph Modular Inc. for $45,000. Smith said that money would ultimately be applied to the debt exclusion and thus reduce the cost of that borrowing to taxpayers.
The Board approved a request by Blackstone National Golf Club to have outside entertainment on weekend evenings on its patio and its adjacent tent from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. The entertainment was decribed as “one instrument acoustic” and would feature one singer. It would take place on Friday and Saturday nights and during some weddings.