Finance Committee Approves Fiscal 2025 Budget

February 29, 2024
The Bedford Finance Committee on Tuesday approved a $113,780,408 fiscal 2025 budget for action by Annual Town Meeting, an increase of 3.8 percent over the current fiscal year. Image: /BedfordTV

The Bedford Finance Committee on Tuesday approved a $113,780,408 fiscal 2025 budget for action by Annual Town Meeting, an increase of 3.8 percent over the current fiscal year.

The total includes $49,593,798 for education. The budget for town departments and non-discretionary costs such as utilities, interest, and insurance was set at $60,678,334.

All six members present voted in favor. One member was absent and there are two vacancies.

The budget, which will be printed in the Town Meeting warrant, does not reflect major changes from proposals submitted for Finance Committee review by the School Committee, the Select Board, and independent town departments.

(The Finance Committee has a meeting scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. to continue discussion of a few warrant articles, so technically the budget figures could still be changed.)

Several members commented that they expect this year will be an aberration. 

“I don’t love the increase this year and hope we can get into a more manageable increase – I think we have to next year,” said Philip Prince. 

Next year, if there’s a 6 percent increase, “the vote won’t be the same,” said George Lee. 

Most of the discussion on Tuesday focused on the 6.1 percent school budget increase, especially in the context of ongoing contract negotiations between the School Committee and two educator bargaining units.

“We have absolutely refined the School Department budget to the lowest it can possibly be,” said Mark Bailey. But Abbie Seibert, a former School Committee member, remarked, “I think there is going to be some shifting when the fiscal year 2026 budget comes along. There so many unknowns at the moment, all kinds of moving pieces.”

Member Tom Rowan said quality education is a prime reason why people move to a town, and it’s one area that is under local control. 

“We are catching up and you have to pay for it,” he said, referencing school and town leaders’ emphasis on competitive compensation. “We have to come up with a decision on whether we want to fund the schools appropriately.”

Committee Chair Ben Thomas pointed out that “the school budget is growing at a rate exceeding everybody else’s. Some of these other budgets are really squeezed.”

Prince even wanted to insert in the budget motion a requirement that the School Department report to the Finance Committee in the fall “and provide a reset estimate.” But he acknowledged, “We need to ensure competitiveness, to be able to hire and retain talent,” noting that there are also plans to improve the town’s share of health insurance premiums.

During the public comment period that began the meeting, Bedford High School teacher Christine Lennox told the Finance Committee that “I would make $21,000 more at Concord-Carlisle while teaching one less class.” Losing teachers to better-paying districts is detrimental to the entire system, she said, and “it’s imperative that we self-correct now at this critical juncture.”

Prince acknowledged that there may be places where budgets could be reduced, but “the superintendent and the town manager said these are what they need to meet expectations.” 

The most significant outcome of budget discussions during the past month was a reduction in allocation of free cash to supplement revenues, Lee pointed out. 

“We made a concerted effort to drive free cash down,” Thomas said. 

The committee’s latest financial model shows an injection of about $8.3 million in free cash, roughly half of the certified amount. The money is targeted toward non-recurring expenses, such as seeding a new stabilization fund for unanticipated out-of-district special-education tuition, or some school security improvements.

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