Saturday, December 15, 2007

Those Budget Blues

The annual town budgetary process, otherwise known as the period of weeping, has begun.

One of the signposts of this season witnesses the entirely misguided and biased reporting on the subject by the Milton Times.

In two recent issues the town newspaper has addressed the budget with respect to the School Department’s request for a 4.8% increase. The request was described as exceeding the “budget prepared by the town.” A headline to a teaser box read “Schools’ Request Busts the Budget”, referencing a “preliminary balanced budget for the town”.

Now it’s understandable that the new editor of our town organ, who comes here from another part of the country, might not be acquainted with how budgets are done in Milton, and all communities with the Town Meeting form of government. But the reporter who authored both of these quotes certainly should know by now. It is not too much to expect those covering town events to have a modicum of understanding with which they can place news events in some degree of context. Instead, we are fed highly sensationalized headlines and sound bites that distort the reality of important happenings. Sadly, these distortions invariably occur in coverage of school finances.

Suffice it to say there is no “preliminary budget”, balanced or otherwise. The new Town Administrator has proposed a balanced budget, working with some of the town departments. It has not been voted on by the Board of Selectmen. But the Town Administrator’s proposal is no more a town budget than one offered by the School Committee in which they presume to decide what funding all other department budgets should receive.

Under the Town Meeting form of government the budget is developed by the Warrant Committee and considered and passed by the Town Meeting. This body takes input from all departments and appropriate elected bodies. However, the final decisions are its own and its recommendation serves as the point of discussion at town meeting, while alternative proposals must be presented as amendments on an article by article basis.

The Warrant Committee has now received all the budget submissions and will spend the next 3 months crafting a budget which balances need with resources as best they can. Given the state of our finances you can expect another year of substantial service cuts as we are forced to reduce staffing levels again. An override to prevent more cuts is not at the moment being considered. This isn’t because one isn’t needed to avert further reductions in service. Cutbacks in fire service and the loss of many positions in the school department already are quite noticeable. The need to cut more, possibly on the same order of magnitude of last year, will be unacceptable to many Milton residents. Political psychology might suggest a course of toughing it out until next year, but the hole will only be bigger, and the override necessary to restore services to prior levels larger.

The Milton Times articles suggests that the School Department’s request is somehow irresponsible. School Committee Members are elected officials of the Town with overall responsibility for delivering the high quality education residents demand. It is their responsibility to request what they feel is necessary, within reason, to meet that demand. Were they to instead submit a budget merely for the purpose of helping the Warrant Committee do its job, they would not be discharging their duty to Milton’s 3800 school children.

The size of the School Committee request is not surprising. They bore the brunt of service cuts in last year’s budget, experiencing staff cuts out of proportion to their share of town staff. They continue to struggle with significant challenges in several educational areas. Now the Warrant Committee has a thoughtful budget proposal that in no way restores all they lost last year. As always, they will make the tough choices and then we’ll have a preliminary budget.


Emily Innes, current member of the Planning Board and past Chair of the Warrant Committee, is enjoying a very successful start in her new business as an Interior Designer. This past March she was chosen to be a member of WHDH’s Room for Improvement Design Team. She’s taught a course at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, and this January she will teach two courses at the Forbes House Museum. For a flyer on the courses and more information about Emily’s business:


“Cradles to Crayons” in Quincy is an organization that helps provide some essential services to children in poverty. So far this season they have distributed a record number of winter coats, and yet they estimate that 2000 children still need them. During this season of giving, give a moment’s thought to whether you have any children’s coats, ‘new or gently used”, which you could donate to a child who otherwise may go without. They have a deadline of December 19th. For more on the organization and drop off information for any donations:

Or you can contact me.


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