Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More on Comparable Expenditure Data

My last post on spending data for comparable communities elicited a substantial amount of comment, mostly private. I’d like to address two departmental budgets in light of this feedback.

The first involves Police expenditures. Some people maintained the comparison was unfair because the Police budget includes items not found in other towns’ Police budgets and therefore skewed the results. Some of the cost factors cited:

1. Police cruisers, usually found under capital budgets.

2. School crossing guards, usually found under school budgets.

3. Dispatch employees

These issues have been raised since 2002 when the comparisons were first put together, and despite being addressed at the time, continue to be brought up.

1. Police cruisers are not included in the budget for comparison purposes. The state has always excluded capital expenditures for obvious reasons.

2. It is not uncommon for school crossing guards to be included in the Police budget. At least 5 of the comparative communities do so.

3. The cost of dispatch employees and any other incidental costs found in the Police budget are simply not of a magnitude to change the overall picture. The Milton Police budget accounts for 8.22% of the town budget of $68.8 million. The closet community in the rankings is Hingham, at 7.06%. It would take a reduction of $688,000 in the budget to reduce the percentage from 8.22% to 7.22%. This is a best case scenario in which we assume only Milton should have any costs removed, and we would still lead the comparable communities in the rankings.

While I fully understand the concern any department would have to the appearance of more than adequate funding vis a vis other communities, the answer is to make the case for the funding, not attempt to cast doubt on the numbers with assertions that are incorrect.

The second budget that received attention was the School budget. Here the point was made that other costs for school services were included in non school budgets. I would point out that this is true for all town budgets. The costs referenced are for benefits, primarily health insurance, and retirement benefits. An analysis by Warrant Committee Chair Tom Hurley allocates these costs to the schools, and in the aggregate to all other departments. Here it is. Data for two of the 13 communities was not available.

Town---------------------------------------------School Exp. % of Town Budget




North Andover----------------------------------------------54.55








This type of comparison suffers from two problems. The only departments we know these costs for are the school departments. For all the other departments, in all the comparable communities, we don’t have the data to compare. Consequently we are using a unique standard for just one department.

Also, departmental budgets are essentially annual operating budgets that reflect the costs of current services delivered to taxpayers. We shouldn’t include retirement costs and health insurance for retired employees in these numbers any more than we should include long term debt costs.

A reader asked me to look at comparative Library expenditures.

What follows comes from the Massachusetts Bureau of Library Commissioners and is 2007 data.

Town----------------Town Approp.--------------Operating Income-------% of Budget












North Andover---------767,810-------------------------804,395--------------------1.2


Calendar Notes

League of Women Voters Debate

Town Election time is here. One of the major events of the political season is the annual debate sponsored by the Milton League of Women Voters. This year it will be held on Monday April 6th at 7:00pm at Fuller Village.

Planning Board Survey

March 31st is the last day to take the Planning Board survey and include your opinions on issues of development, housing and open space in Milton. As of a few days ago, about 524 people had taken the survey online. More people than that read this blog. So if you haven’t yet taken the survey, spend a few minutes providing the Planning Board with the information they need to move forward, confident that they have a broad spectrum of views on issues affecting Milton’s future. Here’s the link.