2008-03-06 / Front Page

Budget increase of 4.65% proposed

By Sam Bari

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser presented his fiscal year 2008-09 annual operating and capital budget for the Town Council's review and evaluation at a budget workshop on Tuesday night.

The town administrator is required to present the budget to the Town Council a minimum of 120 days prior to the Town Financial Meeting June 4.

The proposed budget will require total expenditures of $20,768,219, an increase of $922,034 or 4.65 percent over last year. A total of $8,484,812 or 40.9 percent is allocated for municipal services, while $12,283,407 or 59.1 percent is proposed for education.

The town's spending package will increase by $337,243, a 3.97 percent increase over the previous year. The operating budget of $6,943,555 represents an increase of $315,952 or 4.55 percent. The capital budget expenditures of $661,514 represent a decrease of $32,834 and debt service will increase by $54,125 to $879,743.

The School Committee's operating budget is calculated at $12,283,407, an increase of $584,791 or 4.26 percent. Capital spending on school facilities will be $144,800 or $31,200 less than last year. Scheduled debt service amounts of $416,023, represent a year-over-year decrease of $5,593.

In the next fiscal year, the property tax levy is limited to a 5 percent increase over the current year. The property tax levy for FY2008-09 will amount to $16,867,530, an increase of $825,012.

However, the state-certified tax limit of five percent would allow an increase of $836,359 and Keiser's proposed budget is $11,347 under that cap. Keiser noted that the tax levy is in line with surrounding communities and doing better than most.

In order to meet the tax levy, if all stays the same, the property tax rate will increase by 32-cents from $7.81 to $8.13. The median single family with an assessed value of $480,000 will realize an increase of $153 over last year.

Budget message

To preface the presentation, Keiser read from the introduction to the detailed budget that was given to the council. "This budget is based on a comprehensive review of the funding requirements to continue the existing level of services offered by each of the municipal departments. In addition, the proposal includes expanded programs or projects deemed necessary to more efficiently address current service demands, to continue to upgrade infrastructure and equipment, and to maintain or improve quality of life.

"It is important to note that the town budget reflects the community's statement of service priorities and needs balanced against available non-tax revenues and the taxpayers' ability and willingness to fund these proposed services. Development of the budget plan, therefore, examines both the spending requirements as well as the limits on total revenue."

Expenditures

In the budget highlights that were detailed in a comprehensive slide presentation, Keiser listed "Expenditure Drivers" that included town salary increases of $165,109 for both union and non-union department heads and an incentive program. The expenditures also listed increased benefits of $81,477, utilities of $34,524, and debt of $61,500, bringing the total to $342,610.

The salary increase for union clerical and dispatchers was 3.25 percent; highway, water, and wastewater employees 3.25 percent; and police officers 3.75 percent. Department heads and non-union employees' salaries were also increased by 3.25 percent.

Employee benefits saw an increase with FICA going up by 4 percent and health and dental plans increasing by 10 percent, although 4 percent was offset due to higher employee co-payments. In retirement contributions, the MERS actuarial rate equals 12.16 percent of covered payroll. The Jamestown employee plan is 70.6 percent funded.

Keiser said that utilities adjustments were based on consumption trend analysis and rise in oil and gas prices. He also said, "We will continue to track the first year's expenses in the new Town Hall, but we don't have enough data to be more precise since we've only been here a few months."

Debt service

Debt service for water bonds showed a decrease of $562. Highway equipment, the police station and library, Town Hall, farm preservation and the highway barn totaled $879,243, an increase of $53,625.

Capital funding

The annual funding for the Capital Improvement Plan was $661,515, down $32,814 from last year.

State aid

The Town and schools will receive a total of $1,339,844 from the State, an increase of $10,300 over the previous year. Additionally, the Town will receive $10,300 in general appropriations and pass-through taxes. The Governor's budget for local education aid for Jamestown schools is level-funded at $531,908.

Local revenues

Keiser said that local revenues are expected to reach $1,723,000 in the FY2008-09, an increase of $48,000.

The proposed budget was well received by the Town Council. They asked questions and made suggestions, but did not challenge any of the items as they were presented. Chairman Julio DiGiando said that he was sure there would be more questions, but he urged the council to study the detailed budget and respond accordingly at the next meeting.

Town Clerk Arlene Petit spoke in support of the budget, and said that many people contributed their time and expertise to make the budget as accurate as possible. Keiser thanked those who contributed to the effort for a job well done.

Questions that were asked and topics that were discussed did not directly reflect on the budget outcome. Council members Barbara Szepatowski and Robert Sutton asked why the union contracts were not yet signed. Szepatowski said that she "would not feel real comfortable approving a budget without signed contracts." Sutton agreed.

Keiser explained that the town was at the mercy of the union arbitrator who represented the unions. Keiser said that he worked on the contracts one at a time at his convenience, not ours, meaning the town. The contracts in question were for the police, highway workers, and municipal workers.

Szepatowski said in an interview after the meeting that she thought "we should hire our own arbitrator so the Town would not be at the mercy of the union's time schedule."

Sutton addressed the many department heads, municipal employees and committee members who attended the meeting. He encouraged them to talk to each other and consider ways to consolidate as many services as possible. He said, "Budget items like salaries, utilities, goods and services, are what they are. You can't do anything about those costs. So that leaves people," he said. "We can explore ways to save money by working together efficiently."

He talked to Fire Chief Jim Bryer, and Chief of Police Thomas Tighe about consolidating dispatcher services. Bryer and Chief Tighe said they were already having discussions about doing just that.

Chairman DiGiando asked School Committee Chairman Cathy Kaiser if the School Committee planned on putting their overage from last year's budget back into the Town's capital improvement fund. Kaiser said that she didn't know exactly how much the overage was, but that they definitely planned on returning the funds to the Town.

The next budget workshop was tentatively scheduled for March 25.

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