By Meredith McCulloch
The Finance Committee spent their November 19 meeting gathering information in preparation for setting a guideline for the town budgets. The guideline, issued each year, sets the parameters for department budgets depending upon the Town’s fiscal health. Two departments came in for preliminary discussions about their budgets.
The Planning Board previewed their request to fund a rezoning consultant as they had described at Special Town Meeting November 2. The consultant would review the business zoning along the Great Road from Shawsheen Road to just beyond Fletcher Road. The business area along North Road would not be included in the scope of work. The estimated cost for the consultant is $150,000. If approved, the target for completion would be Annual Town Meeting in March 2017.
Jon Sills, Superintendent of Schools, presented a preliminary look at the school budget for the next fiscal, projecting an overall increase of around 4.25 percent
He acknowledged that the most immediate challenge is dealing with the increased enrollment at Lane school. (An amendment to the FY16 Capital Budget at Special Town Meeting in November provided for a feasibility study.)
Sills listed several other areas that the School Committee is trying to address such as clerical support for facilities and technology departments, special education at Davis for students with moderate autism, and curriculum support for English language arts.
Finance Committee member Richard Bowen pointed out that several elements of the school budget have been moved to other budget lines – facility maintenance, utilities and capital – and the budget is still going up. He went on to say, “Many residents have fixed incomes and some are getting small percentage salary increases. The school increases are not in line with rest of the world.”
The guideline will be issued early in December. Town departments are already at work on their budgets, coordinating with the Finance Department to project personnel costs and gathering estimates for any new expenses. Typically, the Finance Committee meets with the departments from January to early February before making recommendations for Annual Town Meeting.