Buemi: It’s budget season; pay attention

Buemi: It’s budget season; pay attention

Record-Journal

I was just thinking about the budgetary process for the upcoming fiscal year of 18/19. I urge all citizens to attend or watch the Jan. 17 Board of Finance meeting. At that meeting, an initial budget will be discussed, and the Department of Public Works workshop will be held.

The workshops allow each town department (and the Board. of Education) to come before the Board of Finance with their funding requests. The Board of Education workshop is on Saturday, Feb. 3, at 8:45 a.m.

Unfortunately, the BOF does not allow public comment at the workshops. I’ve asked several times over recent years, but they say no. The BOF chairman claims the citizens can speak at the budget public hearing, which this year is on April 3, after the budget is basically a done deal.

Although the citizens elect the BOF to propose a budget, the final say is with all you guys at referendum. So you should be allowed input, even if limited to five minutes, at the workshop level of the process.

As for the budget itself, all I can say is that we are in uncertain financial times. We will have a new governor soon, and it is difficult to know what he/she will do.

From my perspective, the number one complaint I hear from folks is property tax increases. We’ve had plenty in the past eight years or so. Don’t let anyone fool you.

The Board of Selectmen had its own workshop on Jan. 8, and we are recommending a total budget increase between 1 to 1.5  percent. I advocated for the increase to be as close to 1 percent as possible.

The budget has two parts; the town side (police, fire, public works, etc.) and the Board of Education. I think the 1 percent increase on the town side is doable because only about 30 percent of the town budget is salary driven. On the Board of Education side, it is more difficult because salaries make up about 60 percent of their budget. Keep this in mind when you hear a lot about “contractual obligations” during the next few months.

As for the golden egg called Amazon, don’t get me started. We will have two more fiscal years before any of that tax revenue hits our cash register. Lots of stuff still has to happen before one shovel goes in the ground. And don’t expect Amazon to solve everything. Amazon will bring in about $4 million in new tax revenue per year.

But keep in mind that our budgets have been increasing an average of $2 million per year.

You do the math.

There is only one answer, especially in the short term. We need to cut spending – period. I already have some ideas, but I want to hear the workshops first. The fire department will be a hot topic (no pun intended) this budgetary season, and for good reason. But I do think we need to add one new firefighter to help (hopefully) alleviate the out-of-control overtime in that department. And we should cut our contingency fund by 50 percent ($150,000), just in the short term. We hardly ever touch it. I will have more spending cut ideas soon.  

In summary, we need to tighten our budgetary belt. Once the mill rate goes up, that’s it. It won’t come down, even if we get all this new economic development that we constantly hear about. So fasten your seat belts, we’ve got a few bumpy months ahead. Pay attention.

By the way, I hope you all survived that cold spell. Keep an eye on your oil tank gauge, and keep pets inside.  

As always, if you have any comments, reasonable criticisms, or suggestions, feel free to contact me at sbuemi5@comcast.net.

Sally J. Buemi is a North Haven selectman.


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