2013-06-06 / Front Page

Voters pass $21 million combined spending plan

Financial Town Meeting lasts less than half hour
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

Blame it on the Bruins, Town Moderator John Murphy suggest­ed Monday night.

Jamestown’s Financial Town Meeting took just 21 minutes to pass a $21 million combined spending package for the upcom­ing fiscal year that starts July 1.

In all, 113 regis­tered voters attend­ed the session. They unanimously ap­proved $9,729,080 for municipal operations and $11,638,648 to run the schools. Vot­ers also approved four housekeeping items. Among the resolutions, the town now has the authority to set the tax rate for sewer lines at 68 cents per linear foot. Other approved housekeep­ing items allows the town borrow up to $1 million in anticipation of taxes, deposit collected back taxes in the general fund, and to set the new tax rate.

Council President Kristine Trocki said the new tax rate will be $8.75 per $1,000 of assessed property. The proposed figure is 60 cents less than the rate of $9.35 in the current fiscal year. As a result, she said, about half of Jamestown property owners will see lower property-tax bills, while others will see no increase.

Trocki briefly explained the highlights of the new spend­ing package and the process the councilors followed when she introduced the town’s side of the budget. In January, the department heads submitted their requests to the town administrator. Bruce Keiser then reviewed the informa­tion and set spending priorities. In March, the Town Council began reviewing the budget proposals and speaking to the department heads about their needs.

The bulk of the spending in­creases came in capital improve­ments. The council opted to in­crease the capital budget $319,376 from $932,840 to $1,252,216. The extra spending will help catch up on repairs and infra­structure the town postponed dur­ing the economic downturn. Among the projects, Trocki said, are road im­provements and a new roof for the recreation center. The town will also replace genera­tors at the rec center and buy new equipment for the Fire Depart­ment, she said.

The town’s operating budget in­creased from $9.2 million to $9.7 million. Trocki said the additional money reflects cost increases in fuel, salaries and insurance premi­ums.

The School Department helped avoid any tax-levy increase by re­ducing its budget, Trocki said. In addition, the council used money from the undesignated fund to avoid raising taxes. According to Trocki, the money was available thanks to prudent financial man­agement. She credited Keiser, the outgoing town administrator, for his efforts to maintain the town’s economic stability.

“This has been a difficult year,” she said, referring to events such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. She said the tragedy resonated in Jamestown because they are both small New England communities. Locally, she said, Hurricane Sandy and the blizzard nicknamed Nemo caused some hardships for residents. Overall, she said, Jamestown is in “good financial shape” despite the loss of more than $700,000 in state aid.

“This budget reflects the com­munity’s priorities,” she said.

After Trocki spoke, Murphy introduced School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser to go over education spending. Kaiser said over the past few months vot­ers have asked her the same ques­tion everywhere she goes in town: “What’s up with the schools?”

“Not the budget,” she replied.

Kaiser said the School Depart­ment reduced its budget by 2.78 percent from $12.3 million in the current fiscal year to $11.9 million for 2013-14.

According to Kaiser, most of the savings resulted from reduced tu­ition payments since fewer James­town kids will attend North Kings­town High in the upcoming school year. But, she said, some could be attributed to the department’s zero- based budgeting. Kaiser described budget talks as a labor-intensive process that starts every line item at zero rather than raising amounts incrementally from the previous year. The process requires all ex­penditures to be justified annually. The result, she said, is a spending plan “responsive to the needs of our students and our taxpayers.”

Despite the emphasis on con­trolling costs, Kaiser said taxpay­ers are also seeing a good return on their investment in the schools. Improved test scores, she said, rep­resent one measure of the return. However, Kaiser added, the suc­cess of the schools is also reflected in the creativity, resilience, self- discipline and civic mindedness of the students. She said Jamestown students “embody these values.”

Kaiser also acknowledged some public criticism of the schools, cit­ing the teachers union’s no-confi­dence vote in the schools superin­tendent and calling for Dr. Marcia Lukon’s resignation.

“In January, our teachers union voiced serious concerns,” she said. The School Committee investi­gated the union’s charges and con­cluded most of the problems re­flected a misunderstanding about the part-time superintendent’s role. According to Kaiser, the school board and administration were working to improve commu­nications.

With the “added clarity,” she said, “Our school community will move forward.”

After Kaiser presented the school budget, Murphy called for discussion on both the town and school expenditures. No one asked to speak.

Murphy jokingly attributed the meeting’s brevity to an unspoken wish on everyone’s part to dis­patch civic duty in time to catch the NHL playoff game between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins. But when the budget passed at 7:18 p.m., he said the de­cision actually reflected the “good common sense of Jamestown.”

One person said “no” when Murphy called for a vote on the combined $21 million budget, but the voter immediately clapped her hands over her mouth. She apolo­gized and seemed to indicate the negative vote was made in error.

“I am quite certain that the one ‘no’ vote we heard was uttered inadvertently and immediately withdrawn,” Murphy said after the meeting.

The entire proceeding was over well before the 8 p.m. faceoff be­tween Boston and Pittsburgh, and almost before the late arrivals had a chance to find a seat.

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