By Town Charter, Town Council must pass budget by June 10.
By Elizabeth F. McNamara
The Town Council and School Committee meet Monday night at Swift Community Center and the 2019 budget will be front and center. (Here’s the agenda.)
Both panels met this past week and their positions stand in stark contrast. In April, the School Committee had asked the town for a $1.3 million increase in its appropriation – just shy of a 4 percent increase, the most it can get year-to-year under state law.
Meanwhile, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan put out a budget in May that would give the schools an extra $149,000. (The actual increase was $649,000 but $500,000 of that is to cover expenses the administrative costs town took over this year but is turning back over the the school district for fiscal year 2019.)
On Wednesday, however, Corrigan decreased that amount by $62,852, after further review of her budget turned up a couple of missing line items that needed to be filled. Here’s a link to her May 31 revised 2019 budget: 2018.05.30 FY19 Revised Budget.
“To get a balanced budget, I had to take it from the school department appropriation,” she said.
Corrigan said her budget was not meant to punish the schools.
“The budget is built from town obligations first, and the rule for the schools is maintenance of effort,” she said.
Corrigan was referring to the state law that requires a municipality to provide enough money “to support the basic program and all other approved programs.” In addition, according to the statute, “each community shall contribute local funds to its school committee in an amount not less than its local contribution for the school in the previous year.”
At the School Committee meeting Tuesday, Supt. Victor Mercurio presented what cuts would need to be made if the appropriation from the town was increased by $149,000 instead of $1.3 million as the committee had passed in April. Among the cuts, the high school would remain without a librarian for a second year, the district would not be able to hire a director of teaching and learning (i.e. curriculum director), the number of school nurses would drop by one, and the capital expenses budget line would drop by $200,000.
At the Town Council meeting Wednesday, Town Manager Corrigan blamed the failure to give more money to the schools on firefighter overtime. More largely, she and Council President Sue Cienki said labor costs overall needed to be restructured. All four municipal labor union contracts are up for negotiation in 2019. The language Wednesday appeared to be an opening salvo in what could turn out to be a tense year of labor negotiations.
If austerity was Corrigan’s message, Councilman Nino Granatiero Wednesday appeared willing to go further still. Corrigan’s proposed $63.8 million budget requires a near 4 percent tax increase, the maximum allowed under state law. Town Council President Sue Cienki said maybe the town should aim for a 2 percent increase. Granatiero said the council should also consider no increase. He’d been hearing from constituents, he said, and that that’s what they wanted.
Even at a 4 percent tax increase, Corrigan’s budget would eliminate three police officers through attrition – two detectives and one school resource officer. In addition, she said she would not fill the animal control officer position, which was recently vacated through retirement.
None of those positions are mandatory according to the police union contract. Under Corrigan’s plan, if an officer retires, a detective would be moved over to fill that position. The town currently has five detectives, including one who oversees all the court cases.
One of the town’s two school resource officers, Stephen Branch, is retiring this year. Under Corrigan’s budget, he would not be replaced. Meanwhile, Corrigan has increased capital spending for both the town and the schools to address safety concerns in the wake of recent mass shootings.
“These are painful decisions. These aren’t decisions that are being made lightly,” said Corrigan.
The joint Town Council-School Committee budget hearing takes place Monday, June 4, at Swift Community Center at 7 p.m.
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