WVN #541: Taxes could rise 12.5%
- Dear Wayland Voter,
As officials prepare to face voters at the annual Town Meeting in April, they are working with preliminary figures showing the school budget for Fiscal 2015 up 6.1% and the Finance Committee calculating a total tax increase of 12.5%
NOTE: The Finance Committee holds a hearing on the draft Town Meeting Warrant tonight, Jan. 27, at 7:15 p.m.
The school Committee will discuss its operating budget with the Finance Committee at 6pm.
SCHOOL COMMITTEE BUDGET UP 6.1%
The School Committee tweaked its FY15 budget numbers at its Jan. 21 meeting, with a slight decrease to a new total of $35,433,047 -- a 6.1% increase over the current year. This budget does not include fully “loaded” costs, as some benefit costs are carried on the town side of the budget.
Superintendent Paul Stein has indicated that new teacher contracts for academic years 2013-14 and 2014-2017 have been signed and should be available to the public shortly.
The $50,000 tech support position added to the superintendent's recommended budget at the previous meeting has now been removed, to the evident upset of Stein. He described how the entire technology department, and indeed the entire high school, knew of the restored position the day after it was voted at the previous School Committee meeting. That vote would have saved the job of a highly regarded colleague, and Stein was clearly not happy with the yo-yo votes, calling them "strange."
However, a new teacher longevity benefit included in the new teacher contract for the current year, above and beyond the cost of living increases, turned out to be more costly than the administration and School Committee had anticipated when it negotiated the contract. See: http://www.wayland.k12.ma.us/UserFiles/Servers/Server_1036352/File/Human%20Resources/Contracts/WTA%202013-2014%20CBA%20MOA.pdf
The new provision adds $1,000 to a teacher's pay each year after 20 or more years of continuous service, and $2,000 after 25 or more years. It applies to teachers hired after July 1, 2013, but also allows older teachers to opt for those benefits instead of a severance payment at retirement. By the Dec. 31 deadline for teachers to decide, many more than anticipated chose the new benefit.
The budget recommendation still includes $594,000 for an elementary school reconfiguration to take effect next September, even though the Committee still has not chosen a particular option. It asked Stein to come up with more precise numbers for one somewhat cheaper option and for details of the recommended option, K-5 in all three elementary schools.
School costs account for more than 70% of town spending, and the biggest part of the school budget is teacher compensation.
Last June, the school committee reached agreement with the Wayland Teachers Association on four years of negotiated contracts. After discovering it could not legally sign a single contract for four years, the School Committee crafted a one-year contract and a three-year contract. No explanation has been offered to the public for the long delay between the announcement of an agreement and the final contract availability.
-- Tom Sciacca
TAXES MAY RISE 12.5%
On Jan. 23, the Finance Committee discussed the preliminary Fiscal 2015 Budget drawn up by Wayland Finance Director Brian Keveny. This budget could be changed over the next few weeks as well as during the Town Meeting in early April. That draft is available here:
The draft shows a tax increase of 12.5% to $60.88 million from $54.12 million. This does not require an override vote because the levy limit for FY15 is still higher than the expected tax revenue for FY15. The levy limit increases by 2.5% each year over the previous levy limit, not over the amount of tax revenue in the previous year. So the levy limit can rise even when taxes do not. Continued high increases in tax would trigger an override vote in future years.
After free cash reserves had grown to double digits in 2010 and 2011, and residents objected to being overtaxed, substantial free cash has been appropriated by Town Meeting voters to reduce the tax burden. At the fall 2011 town meeting, voters appropriated $4 million towards the already approved FY12 budget. That also kept Wayland from possibly reaching the highest tax rate in the Commonwealth. In FY13, $4.8 million of free cash was used.
Key FY15 budget factors include less available free cash, a School Committee budget that exceeds guidelines, debt service and retirement and health insurance for current and retired employees.
In FY 14 the town appropriated $3.4 million from free cash toward the budget. This year, $1 million is planned. Free cash as a percentage of the budget would fall below 5%, the lower limit of the Finance Committee guidelines. More accurate budgeting has kept free cash totals lower than in recent years.
Updated from his Dec. 16 first draft posted on the FinCom’s website, Keveny listed budgets for each town department, for debt service (principal and interest payments for loans), for retirement, for “unclassified” (which includes health insurance), for the schools and a few other items.
The total non-school town departments’ budget for FY15 rose by 1.32% over FY14. Debt service, which will include payments for the new public works building and also for the last $2 million not yet borrowed for the new high school, rises by 5.65%. Retirement rises by 6.23%. The schools (assuming the School Department budget and the K-5 school reconfiguration) rises by 6.1%. Insurance 32B (health insurance) rises by 7.32%.
The overall budget was estimated at $72,568,292, 4.8% over the FY14 total expense budget of $69,262,000.
On the revenue side, in FY14, $54,118,000 came from real estate taxes. In FY15, the estimate is for $60,883,000 -- a 12.5% increase. Part of the reason for this big increase is that the budget is expected to go up by 4.8% while using less free cash.
Two other large revenue sources (each around $4 million) contribute to the budget. These are state aid and “local receipts.” Local receipts include motor vehicle tax and various fees paid to the town. These are not expected to change much between FY14 and FY15.
Keveny reported to the FinCom that he thought his recent conversation with Moody’s bond rating service in anticipation of new borrowing went well. With regard to the town’s Aaa bond rating, he said Moody’s looks for free cash remaining within the town’s policy guideline, which Wayland’s Finance Committee says is 5-8%.
The state Department of Revenue recommends 3-5% of budget be held in free cash. Some towns with a free cash percentage under 5 are rated Aaa.
Citizen Access to FY15 Budget Information
The Finance Committee’s website contains a great deal of information.
The Committee welcomes the public at budget deliberations, which are easier to follow when courtesy copies of numbers being discussed are provided for the audience, as Keveny did last Thursday evening.
It can be challenging for residents interested in the budget process, especially those watching WayCAM rebroadcasts, to have access to information helpful for understanding FinCom discussions.
For example, the FinCom often refers to its budget guidelines.
Click on FY2015. The key document that kicked off the current budget planning season was the FY2015 budget guidelines memo dated Sept. 30, 2013. It was sent to all departments, including the schools, but it’s not posted yet on this website.
The posted FY14 guidelines memo provides an example of the recommendations for last year’s budget planning process:
What’s different in FY15 is how the cost increases in the new teachers’ contract affect the guideline recommendations.
The FinCom used to hold a public hearing in the fall when the guidelines memo was presented to citizens and town officials. The last such public forum was in October 2009.
The departments have presented their capital budget requests at recent FinCom meetings. No FY15 forms explaining proposed capital requests submitted last October are posted on the website. http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/WaylandMA_Finance/plan
The FinCom aims to conclude its budget deliberations this week, with its presentation and vote on the FY15 operating and capital budget planned for Monday, Feb. 3. See the posted schedule:
TOWN ADMINISTRATOR SEARCH DRAWS 44 RESUMES
Alan Gould of Municipal Resources, Inc. reported to the selectmen on Thursday that his consulting firm, hired to help Wayland fill the town administrator position, received 44 resumes from 18 states, including 16 from Massachusetts. His team sent essay questions to 17 candidates who have until Feb. 3 to respond. His firm will score those essays and will continue its screening process.
A dozen individuals sent letters of interest and/or resumes to the selectmen’s office by the Jan. 23 deadline volunteering to work with MRI on a new citizens’ seven-member screening committee appointed by the selectmen. Three will be citizens at large.
The other four will be a representative each from the School Committee, Finance Committee, Personnel Board and Board of Public Works. Three of those four boards have sent the following names to the selectmen: Beth Butler (SC), David Gutschenritter (FC), and Philip Schneider (PB).
The selectmen are scheduled to discuss the committee’s composition at their meeting on Jan. 27.
Meanwhile, Patch reports that former Wayland town administrator Fred Turkington is one of three finalists for the town manager position in Foxborough.
-- WVN Staff
All meetings take place in Wayland Town Building unless otherwise noted. Click on the date in this website calendar for a list of links to posted meeting agendas:
Monday, Jan. 27:
Finance Committee, 6 p.m.
School Committee, 6 p.m.
Selectmen, 6:45 p.m.
OPEB Advisory Committee, 7 p.m.
Audit Committee, 7 p.m.
Personnel Board, 7 p.m.
FinCom warrant article hearing, 7:15 p.m.
Energy Advisory Committee, 7:15 p.m.
Assessors, 7:15 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 28:
OPEB Advisory Committee, 6:45 p.m.
Zoning Board of Appeals, 8:20 p.m.
Wednesday, Jan. 29:
Board of Public Works, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 30:
Economic Development Committee, 8:30 a.m. (MORNING)
Permanent Municipal Building Committee, 7 p.m.
Conservation Commission, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 4:
Planning Board, 7:30 p.m. Public Hearing for the following proposed zoning bylaw amendments for the April Annual Town Meeting:
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor