Town Departments Facing Hard Choices in Proposed 2023 Budget

January 20, 2022

Town Manager Sarah Stanton told the Select Board Tuesday that there are close to $500,000 in contingency requests from town departments. And “all fall into the category of needs, not wants.”

But none of them is included in the proposed fiscal 2023 budget that she will present in detail at next Monday’s board meeting because she adhered to the Finance Committee’s 2.5 percent guideline for increase.

“Imposed austerity is proving to be challenging,” Stanton said. “If you can’t do more with less, then there’s just less.”

“A guideline is a guideline, and I think it will be entirely up to us when we see this presentation to determine whether that is the path we want to stick to,” said Margot Fleischman Select Board chair.  “I would very much like to see that we are meeting the needs of the community as well as being good stewards.”

“I have a great amount of respect and esteem for the 2.5 percent and the reasoning behind it,” Stanton said. “We have to talk about what those future needs look like and how we can support them.”

The Select Board and Finance Committee have posted a joint virtual meeting for Saturday at 10 a.m. that is being called a financial “retreat.” The agenda features a review of significant fiscal categories: local aid, reserve accounts, tax levy capacity, as well as the projected fiscal 2023 budget. “We’ll talk at the retreat about budgetary pressures that are growing,” Stanton said.

The town manager explained that almost 90 percent of the additional funding that falls within the guideline is either for contracted services or increasing costs of products. “We’re not talking about new positions or increased services. We’re talking about a fiscally tight perspective,” she said.

Stanton mentioned some of the contingencies: overtime and equipment for athletic field maintenance, a full-time custodian for Town Center, additional staff hours in support of the food bank, and part-time help with benefits coordination.

“I have had a lot of tough conversations with department heads,” Stanton continued. “It will not be my most pleasant budget message but it will be one that addresses the reality.”

School Department Guideline Reduced to 3.25 Percent Increase

A couple of times Stanton mentioned that the guideline for education is 3.25 percent—and the school budget proposal reflects a 3.5 percent increase. That committee is scheduled to discuss its budget in detail with the Finance Committee on Jan. 27.

Stanton pointed out revenue increases in local aid from the Commonwealth and new growth to be added to the total property assessment. She noted that Ultragenyx, the firm building a manufacturing facility on the Bedford Woods campus off Middlesex Turnpike, is paying permit fees of close to $1 million over two years.

Expenses can be deferred, Stanton said, but “all needs are growing.”

And “there are lots of things to talk about.” She cited program changes in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and expected recommendations from town government’s Future of Work initiative. “The important work of government should have a seat at the table.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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