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WVN #112 - Ad Hoc Budget Comm: Desperately Seeking Savings

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    Wayland Voters Network September 24, 2005 Dear Wayland Voter, An extended public comment period on the Town Center Development Agreement is scheduled for the
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 24, 2005
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      Wayland Voters Network
      September 24, 2005

      Dear Wayland Voter,

      An extended public comment period on the Town Center Development
      Agreement is scheduled for the Board of Selectmen meeting Monday,
      September 26, from 7:25-8:05 p.m. The agenda also includes an update
      from the hurricane relief steering committee, discussion of
      wastewater treatment for the Wayland Commons housing development, and
      the order of warrant articles for the Nov. 1 Special Town Meeting.
      The meeting begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Building, and will be
      telecast live on Wayland Cable Channel 9.

      Also this Monday 9/26, the Finance Committee is holding its Special
      Town Meeting Warrant Hearing for all nine articles submitted for the
      Nov. 1 STM, at 7:00 p.m. in the Senior Center in the Town Building.

      This newsletter is an update on the FY07 Ad Hoc Budget Advisory
      Committee, which has been meeting since mid-June to try to determine
      if another $2+ million operational override can be avoided for the
      upcoming FY07 fiscal year. WVN subscriber Linda Segal attended the
      first four committee meetings (June 17 through September 8), and
      submitted this report. (Committee meetings are open to the public
      and usually held in the Town Building in the Selectmen's Meeting

      WHY: Can another $2+million operational override be avoided for the
      upcoming FY07 fiscal year?

      WHO: The three voting members of the Ad Hoc Budget Advisory Committee
      are Finance Committee Chair Chris Riley, Board of Selectmen Chair
      Michael Tichnor and School Committee Chair Jeff Dieffenbach. Their
      department heads serve as ex-officio members: Finance Director
      Michael DiPietro, Acting Town Administrator John Senchyshyn (and now
      Town Administrator Fred Turkington, who came on the job Sept. 19),
      and School Superintendent Gary Burton. Other FinCom members and town
      employees have attended and participated.

      BACKGROUND: Last April, Wayland residents voted themselves a $2.3
      million operational override, which resulted in a permanent 9%
      increase in property taxes. Townspeople were told by override
      proponents that voting for the override would `save our services.'
      How well has that pledge held up?

      1) The Wayland Town Pool appears on the verge of permanent closure in
      the next few months, after years of operating in the red.

      2) Most, but not all, department head/employee vacancies after this
      year's so-called "voluntary job freeze" have been filled on the town
      side of the budget.

      3) State Department of Environmental Protection is requiring the
      Water Department to study and propose solutions to multiple incidents
      in recent years of our drinking water exceeding acceptable coliform
      detection limits.

      4) Wayland's Wastewater Management District Commission recently
      recommended the town replace its aging wastewater treatment plant on
      the former Raytheon site with a new plant (acquired originally to
      service existing businesses, homes & municipal buildings in the Route
      20 corridor).

      5) Loker parents were not universally pleased to discover this school
      year began with two larger sections of kindergarten instead of three
      smaller ones.

      6) Selectmen continue to exceed their budget for legal costs, seeking
      line-item transfers and Town Meeting approval to cover litigation.

      7) Costs of fuel and employee benefits keep escalating.

      8) The town's free cash account has dwindled to about $1 million, the
      lowest in more than a decade

      JUNE 17, 2005 meeting: This was the first meeting of the ad hoc
      committee organized to work on avoiding/minimizing the projected
      need for an FY07 override to cover an estimated $2+million shortfall
      in revenue. Potential areas for savings are re-opening employee
      contracts, health care, pension contributions, energy audits,
      overtime, tax delinquent properties, sale of town-owned land, and fee
      supported activities. The committee decided to revive a cost-savings
      chart created a few years earlier that was never fully implemented.
      If significant cost savings are not found, the town will face either
      another substantial override or a 5% cutback in all budgets. The
      town and school sides need to work together more efficiently;
      Superintendent Gary Burton pledged to cooperate fully and sincerely
      in this cost-savings initiative.

      Burton said that imposing higher fees is a false economy; fees are
      not consistently applied to all services that don't benefit the
      overall population. Former Executive Secretary Jeff Ritter (who
      attended the first two meetings) indicated millions of dollars could
      result from selling off one of the unused school-owned parcels of
      land. He also suggested the School Department could recoup monies
      from Medicaid for SPED students, as other towns have done. Burton
      responded that it was not so simple, that it would require
      restructuring certain services; both Ritter and Finance Director
      DiPietro expressed confidence it could be done.

      Everyone agreed to revisit the selectmen's cost-savings chart from
      2003-2004 because the work had already been done. But this time it
      should be a staff-driven process with people assigned to each idea
      and accountable for investigating them. (In '03-'04, no one was
      assigned to follow through on each idea.)

      JUNE 29, 2005 meeting: Attendees discussed a list of possible cost
      savings provided by the Finance Director. Topics included: town-wide
      energy audits; re-opening contracts (someone will check with labor
      counsel to see how successful this has been in other towns); non-
      certified school staff (teaching assistants, clerical, custodial)
      receiving pension benefits from the town side of the budget at a time
      when the Middlesex pension board is increasing the cost to towns;
      suggestion to meet with retirees about Medicare; determine how many
      part-time employees take the town's benefits; look at timing of debt;
      determine the benefit of outsourcing landfill operations; selling
      some unused town-owned land; town pool finances; pros and cons of
      charging school bus user fees; school facilities manager has already
      been asked to plan energy audits; and a plan to explain cost-savings
      initiative at next department heads meeting.

      FinCom member Cherry Karlson, who also identified herself as a
      liaison to the Town Center Committee, reported grave concern about a
      possible killer hit to the town's finances in the event the Wayland
      Business Center (aka Town Center Project) succeeds in getting an
      abatement at the State Appellate Tax Board, which could be in excess
      of $500,000. Changes in the state aid formula could also have
      adverse effects.

      Committee members agreed to consolidate various cost-savings lists
      and have a master list to work from at the next meeting.

      JULY 21, 2005 meeting: The committee went through 29 items on the
      2003-2004 cost-savings list, identifying which ad hoc committee
      member, department head and other volunteers are the most logical
      people to be responsible for researching and reporting back what real
      cost savings can be had for each item. Committee chair Chris Riley
      will update the chart based on the assignments and send the chart and
      cover letter to all departments and town officials, asking them to
      report to John Senchyshyn by the end of August re where they see
      potential cost savings. The next day, the chart was posted on the
      selectmen's webpage. http://www.wayland.ma.us/fy07ahbac/index.htm

      Upon seeing the cost-savings chart, Selectman Alan Reiss was so
      intrigued by the prospect of recouping monies from tax delinquent
      properties that he worked with Town Treasurer Paul Keating to
      generate a detailed list of property owners (not very lengthy). An
      attempt was made to contact each party, and information gathered is
      being applied not only to eventually recouping back taxes but also to
      establishing a clear process for addressing more timely collections
      in the future. Approximately $900,000 is owed to the town in either
      land or water liens.

      Meanwhile, the ad hoc committee is moving forward on discussing re-
      opening contracts for town employees. FY07 will be the third year in
      the town's three-year contracts. Such discussions are occurring in
      executive session by a subset of the ad hoc committee. The Board of
      Selectmen, Finance Committee and School Committee have also each held
      at least one executive session to date on this subject.

      SEPTEMBER 8, 2005 meeting: Public comment was listed as an agenda
      item. Resident George Harris was prompted to appear and provide
      comment after having reviewed the committee's cost-savings chart
      posted on the selectmen's webpage. He was struck by his discovery
      that despite some 44 listed ideas, managing increasing legal costs
      was not included. While his point was noted, committee chair Riley
      did not allow Harris to read into the record a recent letter he had
      published on this subject in the MetroWest Daily News that had not
      appeared in the Wayland Town Crier.

      Resident Kent George also offered his personal input to the
      committee. It was his observation that the committee is only
      nibbling at the margins of the budget issue at relatively small
      increments. Given that the schools spend about two-thirds of our tax
      dollars and we face a $2+million override next April, George
      suggested the School Department should come up with a plan to cut at
      least $2 million out of its budget to balance overall town-wide
      needs. He believes the school system is strong enough that it should
      not be harmed because we are paying for the essence of a private
      school education using public school financing. He said school
      administrators are most informed of what can be cut to make
      appropriate adjustments.

      In response to Riley's August 1 letter seeking feedback from town
      departments, written responses with supporting data were sent to John
      Senchyshyn by the Board of Health, Accounting, Police, Information
      Technology, and Selectman Reiss (working with the Town Treasurer).

      Riley announced that a Finance Committee memo was issued Sept. 7 to
      all town departments informing them of the precariously low balance
      of just $1 million in the free cash account. In order to protect the
      town's Aaa bond rating, NO requests for funds from that account will
      be honored unless it is for an urgent public safety need. No warrant
      articles should be submitted seeking money from that account. Each
      department will need to manage its FY06 budget carefully to absorb
      any unexpected costs.

      Copies of the updated cost-savings chart were distributed to
      observers in the audience so we could follow the discussion. Town
      Administrator Fred Turkington (not yet officially on-the-job)
      participated. The committee noted progress made on the first 10
      categories from their chart, including data submitted by various
      department offices, as follows (summarized):

      1) Re-opening contracts: unions are aware from the local press that
      this is pending. More information is needed from the FinCom before a
      letter will be sent out to the unions.

      2) Lobby Middlesex Retirement Board: Riley reported that MRB is
      seeking $300,000 increase from the town to cover all pensions.
      Letters are about to go out to state legislators seeking some relief
      from such state-mandated costs. Riley suggested a separate follow-up
      meeting of town boards on this topic.

      3) Medical Insurance for Retirees: need an actuarial study done
      before town can vote changes (as mentioned at FinCom budget hearing
      last Feb.).

      4) Part-time employees eligible for medical insurance: Finance
      Director provided written list of those on the town side. There are
      14 part-time employees across various departments, all performing
      different jobs, so the part-time positions could not be consolidated
      into fewer full-time jobs; 11 of the 14 take the town's health
      insurance. Superintendent Gary Burton verbally reported there are 52
      part-time school employees. Twenty-three are eligible (working 50%
      or more); of those, 12 take the town's health plan. The merits of
      part-time employees and job sharing were discussed. Burton admitted
      that jobs could be designed for less than 20 hours so those employees
      would not be eligible for health benefits. School Committee Chair
      Jeff Dieffenbach was asked to provide the info in a written memo.

      5) Fee-supported programs: Town Pool is about to close, perhaps as
      soon as March. Committee members seek more information to determine
      if any operation can be sustainable. Health Director has been asked
      to evaluate landfill operations information provided to the committee
      by landfill superintendent Charlie Kiley and resident Bill Currier.
      Burton and school business manager Joy Buhler offered various numbers
      for charging students to ride the bus; town is required to provide
      free transportation only for grades K-6. Riley asked the School
      Department to provide cost data for transportation and school lunch
      in a written memo.

      6) Energy Audits: John Senchyshyn has already met with NSTAR. Public
      education about energy conservation and possibly closing Town
      Building one night a week were discussed.

      7) Town employees have been asked to suggest ideas for saving $$$.

      8) Town-Owned Land: need follow-up to March 19 public forum, good
      data already assembled, need to preliminarily identify parcels for

      9) Debt Schedule: Finance Director already took some action; one-time
      step of putting off debt service for what was approved at April's
      Annual Town Meeting, saving $300,000. Two of the four school
      renovation projects have not been fully reimbursed; state still owes
      $4 million to Wayland; reimbursement under the former School Building
      Assistance program is in doubt.

      10) Overtime: Mostly public safety (no amount provided), landfill
      ($10,000) and schools ($21,000). Riley again asked for all such data
      to be submitted in a written memo.

      Committee had hoped to finish its review of the cost-savings list at
      its Sept. 21 meeting. John Senchyshyn said they got as far as item
      28 (out of 34). Check the selectmen's webpage for future scheduled
      meetings, proposed agendas, meeting minutes, updated cost-savings
      list: http://www.wayland.ma.us/fy07ahbac/index.htm. The Ad Hoc Budget
      Advisory Committee meeting start times vary, sometimes as early as
      7:00 a.m. Bring your own coffee.

      --- Linda Segal

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Margo Melnicove and Michael Short, Editors
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