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Selectmen Review Dates and Issues for Fiscal Year 2014 Budget
“No way in heck will the citizens of Hopkinton entertain a 4.2 percent tax impact,” said Brian Herr after hearing the news from Finance Director Chris Ketchen that due to a series of unfortunate events from 10 to 15 years ago, the town is facing a “baked in” 4.2 percent budget increase for FY2014. “Four point two percent will not happen from my chair.”
Herr’s comment was made during the board’s discussion of the draft budget calendar at its October 2 meeting in which Ketchen outlined the budget deadlines dictated by the town charter and provided a preliminary budget forecast.
The first important date is November 1, the date by which the Board of Selectmen must issue a policy statement that establishes the guidelines for the FY2014 budget, and according to Town Manager Norman Khumalo, the goal is to present the basics to the board as early as possible. Ketchen’s budget calendar identifies the week of October 22 as the official kick-off of the FY2014 budget season.
In addition to reviewing the important dates and deadlines, Ketchen also provided the board with a preliminary financial forecast. The biggest issue to be dealt with is the “baked in” 4.2 percent increase facing the town that is a result of the end of a Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) reimbursement that is occurring one year premature to the retirement of the debt. Khumalo made it clear that in no way was Ketchen proposing a 4.2 percent increase, but that the increase was there due to previous decisions made by the town and would have to be dealt with.
Other key assumptions provided by Ketchen included a 2 percent increase in the municipal budget and a 3 percent increase in the school budget, new growth currently estimated at $750,000 but expected to be adjusted upward to $900,000 in mid-October and the assumption of level state aid.
The other board members agreed with Herr’s sentiment that residents will not accept the 4.2 percent tax impact and the remaining discussion centered on their comments and possible ways to come up with an alternative solution.
“I am so grateful for your work,” Michelle Gates told Ketchen, “but the 4.2 percent is not going to work.”
Todd Cestari was also not in favor of just accepting the 4.2 percent increase, but urged residents to pay attention and stay up to date with what’s going on and why. He also mentioned some of the upcoming maintenance issues the town will have to deal with as highlighted in the final report of the Permanent Building Committee.
“We haven’t gotten new tires in a while and we’re going to have to do some maintenance,” said Cestari.
Both Herr and Gates were willing to look at using free cash to close the gap and Chairman Ben Palleiko agreed that the 4.2 percent cannot be the final number, but said that there are some other alternatives that could be pursued that would mitigate the problem.
“It is the state of the budget as it sits, it’s a problem we have to solve,” said Palleiko. “I think this board is dedicated to solving it and not just simply passing it through, but it is going to take some work and some creativity and some effort to get there.”
In summary, Palleiko wrapped up the discussion by saying that the board strongly reiterates the same message as in the past few years and the default is level funding for all departments except in instances where it can be shown that specific increases will result in enhanced services and better value for the residents of Hopkinton.
The official budget policy statement from the Town Manager and the Board of Selectmen will be voted on and issued after their meeting the week of October 22.