2007-03-29 / News

From the Town Administrator

A responsible budget
By Bruce Keiser

I want to thank the Press and reporter Dotti Farrington for the thoroughness in reporting details of the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2008 and the discussions at the recent Town Council workshops. Some might consider talking budget numbers a good antidote for insomnia; Dotti might be commended for staying focused for the lengthy, three hour budget workshop.

To summarize for readers, the budget under consideration by the Town Council proposes spending increases amounting to $799,393, or 4.21 percent more than the current year adopted budget. The town portion of the budget will increase by $321,688 (4.14 percent) and the amended school budget will rise by $477,705 (4.26 percent) over the current year.

The overall tax levy necessary to fund the FY2008 Proposed Budget amounts to $16,012,802, or 4.61 percent more than the current year and under the 5.25 percent state tax cap. If adopted by the Town Council and approved at the financial town meeting, the tax levy would raise the average tax bill by 3.3 percent. (Growth from development in 2006 expanded the tax base accounting for the difference between the tax levy and the tax rate changes.) However, due to the update of real estate values generated by the state-mandated statistical revaluation, individual residential and commercial property tax bills will change more or less than the town-wide average.

While this column is too brief to discuss all facets of the proposed budget, I would like to comment on the principal accounts that contribute to the additional town spending requirements. The first major component consists of spending to fund personnel costs for wages and benefits. Generally, this element represents baseline expenditures to pay for annual salary increases for union and nonunion employees as well as changes in health and retirement benefit costs. The proposed budget projects higher costs for benefits and negotiated pay hikes of $164,550, amounting to 2 percent of the total town budget.

The second element comprises initiatives that will address an identified town need or priority. Major initiatives the town has adopted or proposes to undertake are entirely debt-related. These include the first full-year debt service for the new Town Hall ($299,000), a proposed $3 million bond to permanently protect 160 acres of scenic farmland ($195,000), and a five-year lease purchase for two fire tanker trucks ($87,000). The combined total of the new debt-related expenditures equals $581,000.

Due to the June 2007 retirement of the 20-year golf course bond and current year interestonly funding for the Town Hall debt, the net debt service expenditures in FY2008 will increase by $352,250.

To offset the burden of the added payments for debt service, we have proposed to curtail the level of spending for capital projects and equipment. This budget line item is reduced from $915,460 to $627,648, a savings of $288,112. The adjustment to a lower spending level can be achieved with a recognition that projected capital budget needs can be accommodated in future budgets.

As all of us who manage our household budgets know, a oneyear financial plan is no plan at all. Working with the School Su- perintendent Bob Power, active discussions have begun to estimate spending needs and priorities over the next three to five years. A look at community growth and school enrollment trends shows that municipal and school service demands are stable. On the town side, anticipated new spending will accompany the implementation of bondable capital projects, including closure of the landfill, construction of the highway barn, a long-term systematic road improvement plan, and the Fort Getty Master Plan. In addition, we will be pursuing grant opportunities and possible capital support for affordable housing, bicycle paths, and ballfield improvements.

I believe each of these projects can be managed within the constraints of responsible budgets.

Through sound financial management, the community has established a secure fund balance and is in excellent financial shape. The recent credit rating upgrade by Moody's Investor Service from A1 to Aa3 places Jamestown in good company as one of only nine communities in the state to earn this distinction. Given the community's financial stability, Jamestown is well-positioned to not only maintain existing assets but to add new amenities that will diversify opportunities and further improve our already high quality of life.

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