Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Budget Blues

The Warrant Committee has finalized the FY07 budget recommendation, barring revisions on Town Meeting floor. The news is bleak. Let’s start by looking at the macro picture.

FY06 Budget----FY07 Requests----FY07 Non-Cont----FY07 Cont


The column marked requests is somewhat of a misnomer. Yes, it includes all the departmental requests for budgets, but it also includes all the “bills”, such as benefits, retirement costs, general insurance and state charges. These items essentially have to be paid. The requests represent an 11 percent increase over the current year’s budget. They reflect an attempt by all town departments to recover from years of flat budgets caused by the recent economic downturn, and during which time we have not had an operating override to boost our revenue.

However justified these budgets might have been, our income permits us to appropriate only $1,886,201 more than this year’s budget, for the total you see under the non-contingent (no override) budget. The increased cost for the “bills” that I mentioned is just under $1.4 million. So that leaves approximately $500,000 of new appropriations to allocate to all the services we expect from our town government, the combined cost of which is $46 million this year. That’s barely a 1% increase.

The contingent (override) budget worked out by the Warrant Committee would mean an override of $2,982,712. Even with the override the FY07 budget would be $2.3 million less than the requests. The override amount is a reduction from what the Milton Times reported in Friday's paper. I should also point out that Selectman Candidate Shields has put out campaign literature saying that he is “opposed to the proposed $3.5-$5 million override.” Since there was never any such proposed override, such claims do a disservice to the voters of Milton.

The best way to judge the impact of a budget is to look at the impact on the services it provides. Let’s look at the consequences of the non-override budget for some of the larger departments based on reports provided by department heads.


The chief has said that all cuts will have to come from personnel. He anticipates he’ll need to cut 6 patrol officers. During the 16 hours comprising the night shift from 3:30 pm to 7:30 am, 3 platoons of 6 officers each patrol the town. With the cuts this will be reduced to 2 platoons to cover the entire town, a 1/3 cut in coverage. The chief said the proposed budget will “dramatically affect our ability to do our mission.”


The fire chief predicts he will have to cut 3 firefighters. There will be a reduction in engines (pumpers) from 3 to 2. East Milton and Atherton Street will have pumpers, while Central will only have a Ladder truck. The chief describes the budget as inadequate to do the job.


The head of the DPW underscored the severity of the cuts that would be necessary under his budget by sketching out “all personnel” and “all service” scenarios. Under the all personnel scenario, 15 employees would have to be cut. The department, for all practical purposes, would cease to exist in any meaningful sense, since its primary functions require people. The all service scenario would require the end of Yard Waste pickup, the cessation of Fire Alarm wiring, the shutting off of 2/3rd of the street lights, the elimination of the Hazardous Waste program and the closing of the recycling center. A more realistic approach would contain some of each of these, but any effort would likely include the ending of Yard Waste Pickup. Combined with the elimination of the Program Manager position, Fire Alarm wiring and ½ the street lights, 2 additional positions would be eliminated. If no streetlights are turned off, 5 additional positions would be eliminated.


The Superintendent indicated that the school system would have to shrink to make the best of a very bad situation. The 1909 Wing would be closed. Elementary students throughout the system would be re-distributed to the Tucker and Glover Elementary schools. Since there is not enough room for all elementary students in those schools, grade 5 would be moved to the Pierce Middle School. Pre-K and K would be at the High School. This consolidation would be accompanied by the cutting of teachers.

Level-----------Full Time-----------------Part Time



High School--------10---------------------------4


These staff cuts combined with a student population that is increasing would mean a substantial increase in class sizes.

A little discussed impact of this budget, beyond the obvious consequences to the quality of education for the next fiscal year, is the difficulty this will create for opening the Collicot and Cunningham schools in FY08. While consolidating permits you to efficiently create fewer, larger classes, opening the two new schools has the opposite effect. We will need more teachers to staff more classes at two schools. We will also have significantly greater operating costs than for the 1909 wing. A properly funded budget for FY07 along the lines proposed by the School Committee would enable them to absorb what would be a much smaller additional cost to open the schools in FY08. The non-override budget would create such a deep hole that a significant additional sum of money would be needed in FY08 in order to open the Collicot and Cunningham schools.


A $2.9 million override is a large override. Yes, it is larger on a nominal basis than any override we've ever had. However, any intelligent evaluation of that figure must take into account inflation. In 1990, during another economic recession, we passed an override of $1.98 million. Indeed, we passed it after having passed a $600,000 override the prior year. If you adjust the $1.98 million for inflation over the past 16 years using the Consumer Price Index, an equivalent override today would need to be over $3.1 million. So, in terms of real dollars, this is not unprecedented. What we as citizens will have to decide in the coming weeks is how much we value good education, police protection, fire protection and the maintenance of our roads and walkways.

Campaign News:

Precinct 5 readers should check out the blog put up by Robert Davis. Robert is running for Town Meeting member. Just click on his name in my link list. Also in Precinct 5, long time Milton resident and Town Meeting member Nancy Kearns is running for Town Meeting Member. Nancy was a Town Meeting Member from Precinct 10.


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