A Different Sort of Meeting
Tonight is my first Tiverton Budget Committee meeting (public-access television excepted), which means I’m not in the utter minority of the room. Town Hall is actually pretty well populated — moreso than for many Town Council meetings.
Of course, it helps that the entire School Committee is here to argue (or not) for their proposed budget, which along with the proposed municipal budget, will raise property taxes in the town by an estimated 13%.
An updated tax increase is now 12.1%
First in the hotseat is the Department of Public Works — Director Stephen Berlucchi.
Berlucchi reviewed the tight circumstances of the Tiverton DPW, and with a workforce of ten, there doesn’t appear to be much fat there. Now he’s talking about the huge increase in the cost of sand and salt for snowstorms. He predicts that supplies will run out in the middle of next year.
It sounds like Tiverton can treat the roads for two more storms this year. After that, who knows. Clearly our budget dollars flow somewhere else.
Apparently, street-sign theft is a real problem. The consequences of things I didn’t realize as a teenager…
The paving budget (now equal to last year’s $70,000, down from a proposed $85,000) serves also as a reserve fund for sand and salt, overtime, and so on. As the director admits (and everybody knows) the roads in town are just horrible.
Again: where’s all the tax money going? These are basic government services.
And drainage is a problem, wasting manpower and sand/salt for ice that forms unnecessarily in the street. For this reason, Berlucchi applies his paving budget to alleviate this problem (you know, the paving budget that serves as a reserve budget for other things).
I’d say that, in addition to cutting the budget to a 0% tax increase, the town ought to redirect resources to these basic necessities that keep residents and visitors safe.
Budget Committee Chairman Jeff Caron asked Mr. Berlucchi what he would do to come up with a 15% reduction. Being very helpful, Berlucchi suggested that he couldn’t come up with that off the top of his head, but he’d put something together and move it through Town Administrator Jim Goncalo, who (I believe — I looked away) waved him off of doing so. The conclusion is that such a document will not be forthcoming.
Currently on the table is the police pension, and former Budget Committee Chairman Chris Cotta is giving a history lesson on the poor investments in the past. According to Cotta, the problems originated in the ’90s, when the money was pretty much placed in a simple 5% interest account.
The question has been raised whether Budget Committee member Rob Coulter can vote on the budget of the School Committee (now up), considering that his wife, Danielle serves on it. The answer is that Rob must recuse himself only if Danielle stands to gain financially (as with a committee member stipend).
Supt. Bill Rearick just stated that the School Committee’s goal is to bring its budget to an increase of 2.75%. He also noted that Blue Cross/Blue Shield expenses are likely to go down 4% (around $100,000).
The school department estimates that unfunded mandates amount to $347,000 (as an arbitrary amount for which the state would pay, but of which the town has received nothing).
The school department has been told to expect $623,000 from the federal stimulus package, but there is no information about how many years that covers. The School Committee’s lawyer also clarified that existing laws require that money to supplement, not supplant, funds already dedicated, although some rumors suggest that requirement might be relaxed.
Two teachers are expected to retire and be replaced with lower-step employees — conversation planned for next Tuesday night.
One Budget Committee member asked why budgets keep going up although enrollment goes down. Supt. Rearick is explaining that costs keep going up — and he listed everything except the cost for classroom instruction.
Rearick’s message: The school department doesn’t control anything that’s driving up the cost of education. Unmentioned: labor contracts.
Sally Black is expressing hope that the three government bodies (town council, budget committee, and school committee) will work together, unlike historical ire prior to the last few years.
Jeff Caron handed out a package of documents illustrating the school department’s budget increases well beyond CPI. Here’s where tension may ratchet up in the room.
Growth of expenditures has been more than twice CPI.
Rearick is complaining that Budget Committee worksheets show “total appropriations” and might confuse “the average citizen who reads it” into thinking that’s the total tax levy. Doesn’t make much sense to me… state aid and such is reduced down the line.
Jeff Caron is going through his sheet showing that school funding must drop somewhere around 5% and everything else that’s changeable by 16.5% in order to stop a tax increase. I’d like to think that the school committee is picturing families that will watch their spending money shrink.
Some bickering between Supt. Rearick and Jeff Caron has seen some real heat the room. One member of the committee left the table.
School Committee Solicitor Robinson is urging the Budget Committee to “tread carefully” in taking state statute to permit a decrease in school aid.
The arrogant gaggle at the back of the room — consisting of the old powers of the town — are gabbing like highschoolers at a performance put on by the unpopular kids.
School Committee President Jan Bergandy is discussing the contractual complications that they face. Nothing new. All of the arguments for higher pay and such (keeping quality teachers) lose force in a non-merit, collective bargaining scenario.
Michael Burk is shouting out from the back of the room.
Very, very heated discussion, centering around Supt. Rearick’s contextualization that going up against the NEA in negotiations can be very intimidating.
I’d submit that the way in which the Budget Committee can stand “should-to-shoulder” with the school committee is by forcing the issue by constraining budgets for the sake of the taxpayers.