Municipal Budget Time

( – promoted by Rob “EaBo Clipper” Eno)

Reading, like all municipalities, is currently crafting the budget for FY12. We are budgeting for a 10% decrease in Local Aid from the state and no Federal “Porkulus” money.

At last night’s Selectmen’s meeting, open to the public for comment on the budget, most of the speakers represented the various Community Services departments (Elder Services Administrator, Conservation Commission Administrator and Health Dept. Administrator cut to part-time from full-time) arguing for restoration of funds. The overall Community Services budget was the hardest hit, facing an 11.6% cut. Police and Fire weren’t cut. DPW and other departments faced cuts in the range of 1-2%.

To balance the budget, $1.5 million is being used from the Reserve Fund. (God, I love that name. I prefer to call it what it is, Unspent Tax and Fee Revenue.) Reading is luckier than most communities in that we actually have the reserves to spend. (Part of the reason is they’ve been collecting around $500,000/yr more than they’ve spent for the past 5 years. Higher taxes than necessary to run the town. Yippee!)

I was one of the few to speak who has no connection to any town department. I am a Town Meeting Member though. What I chose to focus on was the fact that there is around $320,000 in raises included in this budget. $230,000 from the schools. The Town Manager and all Department Heads (except those with their hours cut to part-time) got 2% raises. In some cases the next level down did as well.

This is just bad optics. You don’t lay off people and cut others to part-time and give raises to certain other people. And you certainly don’t raise taxes on those in the Dreaded Private Sector who haven’t seen a raise in years. There is no defense for that. Benefits costs are estimated to increase by 10%. So not only are we paying raises, but we’re also picking up the increased benefits costs. Town Management doesn’t want to upset their precious labor relations by asking to open the contracts to negotiate savings. They’d rather lay people off. It’s my opinion that they are setting the stage for a 2 1/2 override for the operating budget. Cut enough staff and service suffers, making people more open to much higher taxes to fund those services.

What’s not happening is looking for alternative revenue sources. Medford struck a deal with Clear Channel media for $1.75 million to allow 2 billboards to be placed on city property. It’s that type of out-of-the-box thinking that needs to happen. Medford is taking advantage of the fact that they owned property along Rt 93. Reading sits astride both Rts 93 & 95. And what do you know, the town owns land along both those highways. This idea was put before the Board 2 years ago with no action taken to date. I guess it’s too much work. It’s easier to raise taxes and lay off staff.

Many municipalities are considering filing Home Rule Petitions for local Health Plan Design without union approval.

If Reading is going to continue to give raises and benefits increases then we better get collective bargaining-free health plan design or we’re going to be facing this same budget crisis every year moving forward.

The Town Manager called this the hardest budget he’s ever had to produce in his 25+ years in municipal government. Over-all budget cut for FY12? 0.6%.

That’s right. Less than 1%.

I guess it couldn’t have been that tough since he gave himself a raise.

What’s going on in your town/city?

About TLCWeld

Chairman, Reading Republican Town Committee Constitutional Conservative As a son of NH, I choose to Live Free or Die