WVN #112 - Ad Hoc Budget Comm: Desperately Seeking Savings
- 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
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
5) Loker parents were not universally pleased to discover this school
year began with two larger sections of kindergarten instead of three
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
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
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
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