This blog post is my personal interpretation and summary of discussions from meetings that I attend and are not official minutes.
The SC and Dunstable Advisory Board and Dunstable BOS had a joint meeting to discuss the Dunstable FY18 budget update. Before the meeting, Marlena Gilbert informed the Dunstable Advisory Chair and a member of the Dunstable BOS of some questions for the discussions. Dunstable Advisory Chair was responsive and welcomed all questions.
- Dunstable Budget Summary Update – In a typical year, Dunstable allocates 60% of its new money (2.5% previous base plus Net Growth to GDRSD, for FY18 they also allocated the money remaining from last year’s override). None of the funds from the approved override were assessed by the GDRSD because the override in Groton failed, which means that NONE of the funds from the override were able to be given to the schools last year.
- Total override amount – $474,874
- Total taxed to Dunstable residents of override – $324,561
- Total voted on at Dunstable Town Meeting for municipal budget – $287,466
- The full override amount of $474,874 was able to be taxed, however, the remaining funds would have been placed in Free Cash so they could be utilized for one-time expenses for both the school and municipal. Although Dunstable’s Free Cash level was below recommended levels per the DOR and their accountant, it was explained both the DOR and their accountant recommending not taxing the remainder of $151,350 and putting in Free Cash per budgetary principals. I disagree with this recommendation as it solidly does not subscribe to the need to increase Free Cash or their Stabilization Funds and further increased the already difficult financial situation that currently exists in Dunstable. I also believe that where the override was for both municipal and schools, the SC should have been included in this discussion but was not.
- Dunstable Personnel Compensation – At the last Dunstable TM the town voted to adopt a bylaw that required the Personnel Board to establish a pay scale grid to be presented to the BOS. This pay scale was reviewed and ratified by the BOS as it was to adequately compensate employees to what is offered in comparable towns. There seemed to be discussion as to the process in which this was presented, recommended that it can be funded & approved. The total cost of this was approximate $100,000 per year.
- Dunstable Financial Status – There was a discussion about the recently passed override was expected to provide Dunstable with a year of bereavement from financial difficulties and that there was a likely possibility of Dunstable requiring an override shortly to maintain municipal and school services. They will know more after completing a 3-5 year budgetary projections for their town. From my personal perspective, Dunstable is in financial difficulty because they simply do not have any commercial revenue base and they do not receive enough residential revenue. They have been doing their best to keep taxes at a reasonable rate for their residents. They are at a point where they have limited Free Cash, limited Stabilization funds and not enough revenue rejuvenate these resources or to pay current bills. From my perspective, Dunstable would benefit from an operations override to reset their financial status to the point that would allow them to implement better budget strategies that they can acquire from a Municipal Town Manager.
- GDRSD Assessment – Dunstable’s school assessment of the school budget currently exceeds the amount they budgeted for the schools by $41,220.
- Marlena Gilbert suggested that if her understanding is correct and Dunstable will need an override to just cover level services in FY19, perhaps the SC can discuss reducing the assessment and utilizing the school Excess Deficiency Fund to supplement our FY18 budget with the understanding that both towns will need to budget for the expense in FY19. There was some push back from a Dunstable Advisory Member because he did not feel that it was appropriate to budget for FY18 banking on an override in FY19. Marlena Gilbert’s response – the override seems inevitable and if the taxpayers say no then it is no, but at least they are presented with a budget that accommodates the municipal and school needs. Ultimately it is up to the taxpayers of Groton & Dunstable to decide what does or does not get funded.
- SC Budget & Finance Subcommittee will meet on Tuesday morning and Dunstable Advisory & BOS are invited to attend as we discuss various budget scenarios for our school district that includes the three priorities included in the current school budget.
Dunstable Advisory will be working on budgetary projections for Dunstable. TheTown of Groton and the GDRSD already has 3-5 year budgetary projections and will further discuss moving forward to better serve both municipalities and our schools. Stay tuned.