To the Honorable Board of Selectmen, Elected Officials, Webster Residents and Business Owners:
I am pleased to present the Fiscal Year 2020 Proposed Budget that continues to lay the groundwork for Webster’s bright future. I look forward to working with the Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee and School Committee to review and discuss the merits of the budget.
Last year, all of our surrounding communities were seeking a Proposition 2 ½ override with many of them successful in their efforts. At the time, a $1.3 million deficit was projected for our FY2020 budget. It seemed only a matter of time before it was our turn to request an operational override. However, with some hard work, remarkably we were able to close the vast majority of the budget gap. This was accomplished by:
· Negotiating new marijuana host agreements: $150,000
· Bidding out and saving on our general and liability insurance: $130,000
· Funding our streetlights through grant funds rather than bonding: $87,000
· Funding the purchase of the Fire Rescue with cash on hand rather than bonding: $80,000
· Reduced or eliminated the following positions in the past two years—part-time engineer, part-time benefits coordinator, town collector, assessing clerk, treasury clerk, chief chemist, parking clerk, secretary to the board of selectmen: $281,000
· Used the State Qualified Bond Act to reduce our debt service interest rate: $80,000
· Reformed the Town health insurance options: $340,000
· TOTAL SAVINGS: $1,148,000
Even with the above cost saving measures, our resources available fall short of what all of our departments have requested. We were able to reduce the Town’s portion of the budget to a 3% increase. The School Department has requested an increase of 4.2% (an $887,000 increase); however, my proposed school budget is set at a 3% increase (a $630,000 increase). Last year I recommended that the Town and School agree to divide the estimated new revenue proportionate to the current split of the school and town portions of the budget net of the increase in shared costs between the Town and School. For example, this year there is an estimated increase of about $2.1 million in revenue (tax levy, state aid, local receipts, etc.). From this we subtract the increase in shared costs—$1.2 million. The remaining $900,000 is split at the current rate of 30% Town ($270,000) and 70% Schools ($630,000). Shared costs between the School and Town include: debt service, assessments, overlay, retirement assessment, unemployment, health insurance, Medicare tax, OPEB, liability insurance, school crossing guards and student transportation. This is an equitable solution to what can be a difficult problem. Over the next few months, the Board of Selectmen, School Committee and Finance Committee will help determine if this is the appropriate division of our limited resources.
The $47.8 million budget (4.55% increase) I have recommended will continue to deliver the high level of service our residents have come to expect, but will do so with fewer resources than were available in the past. It is our challenge and responsibility to maintain and, as possible, improve the delivery of services with less resources. The greatest increase in this year’s budget is debt principal payments with an increase of over $750,000. This is the result of several previously approved projects that now have their first debt payments due including: a portion of the Park Avenue School construction, Webster Middle School renovations, Kelley Library construction, fire tower truck purchase, and technology devices and upgrades for the schools. Another significant increase is our retirement assessment which increased $213,000. I have also budgeted $100,000 for our Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB—retiree health insurance). The Town has a large unfunded liability in this area and this appropriation shows a good faith effort to start addressing it.
By reallocating resources, we have been able to make some modest increases to the budget for some of the Town’s priorities. Included is $24,000 for dealing with nuisance properties. Many times nuisance properties remain standing because neither the owners nor the Town have the resources to demolish them. This will give the Town some funds to manage nuisance properties with the ability to lien the property to recoup any town expenditures. Additionally, $35,000 has been set aside for the Town’s economic development fund which is used to improve the business environment, attract and retain businesses and fund public projects with an economic benefit. Minor increases were made to the buildings and grounds budgets to improve public landscaping, repair the gazebo and make improvements to Town Hall. Lastly, a salary reserve has been set aside to fund all town increases. Through a State grant, the Town hired a third-party consultant to create job descriptions and determine market salaries for all Town positions. This reserve will be distributed in accordance with the salary study when complete.
Each departmental budget has been closely reviewed to more closely align projected expenses with the budget. This has resulted in a very lean budget with very little wiggle room for any unforeseen circumstances. I appreciate, in advance, the cooperation and flexibility of the Board of Selectmen, the Finance Committee and Town Meeting voters for any budget adjustments that may be needed in the future.
I encourage you to review this budget document in detail. This will provide you with a better understanding of the changes proposed in the budget. I very much welcome discussion or questions on what is being proposed. Please feel free to call me at 508-949-3800 ext. 4000 or email me at email@example.com.
In closing, I would like to sincerely thank and recognize the Finance Team: James Chauvin, Treasurer/Acting Collector; Marc Becker, Assessor; and Tim Bell, Accountant. Lastly, I would like to express my appreciation for the cooperation I have received from the employees, and members of the Board of Selectmen who had input in the creation of this budget. I look forward to working with each of you as we implement this plan to fund the future of Webster.
Doug Willardson, Town Administrator