The Bedford Select Board this week endorsed Town Manager Matt Hanson’s proposed departmental budget for fiscal year 2025.
The budget, covering all municipal departments, totals $21,084,454 – a 5.37 percent increase over the current fiscal year. Next month, the Finance Committee, which has voted a 3.5 percent guideline for year-to-year spending increase, will review the proposal.
Hanson has identified key factors responsible for the differential as $178,948 in new annual software maintenance costs, and $65,000 for a new position of payroll administrator.
The number approved at a meeting Tuesday is actually $57,636 larger than the original presentation on Dec. 18, as Hanson moved a capital project manager position from the capital to the operating budget.
No members questioned specific budget line items.
“I don’t see anything in this budget that would be a ‘nice-to-have,’” said Emily Mitchell. She pointed out that a 3.5 percent increase actually reflects a budget cut because of the impact of inflation.
Shawn Hanegan, noting that the School Committee budget proposal also exceeds the Finance Committee guideline, asked about the overall financial picture. Director of Finance David Castellarin pointed out that there are still significant variables that need to be addressed, such as contributions to the stabilization fund and the account offsetting other post-employment benefits (OPEB) liability.
Similarly, in answer to a question from Paul Mortenson, Hanson said the impact on residential property taxpayers won’t be definitive until later in the summer.
Hansen noted the School Committee’s “expectations of having to provide significant raises for their staff to stay competitive and not have to make operational cuts.” That budget proposal exceeds the guideline even more than the town budget.
Finance Committee Chair Ben Thomas said from the gallery that he expects his board to question budget components.
“I’m going to do some of the pushing,” he added. Thomas said, “We have to be aware that we are spending other people’s money, and we have to have a good justification for it.”
He also emphasized the need to balance expenditures for the coming year with their cumulative impact five or 10 years from now.
“The finances of the town are very healthy, and we have strong reserves,” said Select Board member Margot Fleischman, which “help the difficult choices.”
In answer to her question, Castellarin said free cash has been certified at more than $15 million. The primary driver was some $4 million in building permit fees. Fleischman acknowledged that this level of free cash is a “temporary phenomenon.”