2007-11-01 / News

Town and school get ready for an intense 2008 budget process

By Tom Shevlin

"Surprise, surprise, it looks like we're in for another tight year," said Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, after meeting with members of Jamestown's two major budgeting bodies. They met to discuss the upcoming budget season in a special joint meeting between the Town Council and School Committee on Monday.

Keiser set the stage for the meeting by expressing the town's desire to prepare itself for the always intensive budget process.

"We wanted to not only look in the rear view mirror; we wanted to look forward," Keiser said.

Keiser noted that the state's tax levy cap has placed definitive restrictions on town budgets and requires fiscal discipline.

On the town side, Keiser reported that, to date, the town has a projected operating surplus of $260,000. After that number is adjusted for an annual deferment of $150,000 to the town's reserve funds, the actual surplus is $110,000, he said.

According to town projections, the highest percentage year - over - year increase will come from retirement costs. Approximately $102,830, or 11.1 percent is due next year in municipal and school pension costs.

The lowest percentage increase will come from municipal salary costs. However, while representing just a 4.1 - percent increase in yearly expenditures, town salaries totaling roughly $297,000 are the largest actual dollar figure increase for the next fiscal year.

Jamestown's total fiscal year 2007 budget is $16,727,176. That means with a tax levy increase limit of 5 percent for fiscal year 2008, the town can spend approximately $836,000 more than this year. That number drops, however, when pre-standing commitments are taken into account.

Both the highway barn ($75,000-$90,000) and the recently approved farmland acquisition plan ($60,000) will cut the town's budgetary increase to approximately $600,000.

On the school side, Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lukon reported an unaudited operating surplus of $251,202.78, and a capital fund surplus of $11,106.12.

Asked by Councilman Michael Schnack what the "big misses" were in terms of excess estimates, School Committee Chairwoman Kathy Kaiser replied that the operating surplus was in large part attributable to a decrease in North Kingstown High School tuition payouts.

The special education population is expected to remain steady, however committee members noted that even a minor increase in the number of special needs students in the school system could have a profound impact on the budget.

Former School Committee member and current council Vice President Julio DiGiando asked committee members if and when the school budget would exceed the imposed property tax levy cap.

Asked by Councilman William Kelly whether the town could be of any assistance to the school committee in securing additional state funding, Kaiser was not optimistic.

"The state's not really in a position itself to offer that help," Kaiser said. That doesn't mean, however, that the School Committee would reject any assistance by the town to secure additional funding, according to Kaiser.

While Jamestown, like the rest of the state, will likely face an increasingly challenging budget climate over the coming years, Bruce Keiser summed up the town's immediate outlook succinctly.

"It's not a doom and gloom year," he said.

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