By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard finished up its votes on the remaining Town Meeting articles and budget items ahead of this Saturday’s Town meeting at Hastings Middle School at 9 a.m. Town Administrator Mark Rees reiterated to the board that the budget is in keeping with the policy goals set by the board back in the fall.
In his letter to Town Meeting members (available on the town’s website), Mr. Rees ties the goals to specific spending articles.
The FY18 budget is structurally balanced, meaning it does not use one-time money for ongoing expenses, with operating revenues equaling $47,354,172 and operating expenditures recommended at $45,947,372. Water and sewer operating expenses come from the enterprise funds (dedicated accounts to be used for specific reasons) that come from rate payers and total about $2.6 million for the water department and $3.2 million for sewer for FY18.
The budget fully funds the new labor contracts and salaries for non-union employees. The budget funds a 3.5% increase for the school department for a total of $21,775,696 for, about 47% of the total operating budget.
Town Meeting warrant spending articles, such as Community Preservation Act funds and roads, total about $3 million. That money comes from a variety of sources, such as Chapter 90 (state aid) funds for roads, free cash, the ambulance fund, etc., and the general fund.
The budget puts $650,000 in different reserve accounts, including: $150,000 in the OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) Liability Fund; $250,000 in overlay reserves, used for tax abatements and refunds; $100,000 in the reserve fund (used for emergency spending authorized by the Finance Committee throughout the fiscal year); $150,000 in wage and salary reserves.
According to Mr. Rees’s letter, the FY18 budget does not use any money from the Capital Stabilization Fund. Instead, the budget recommends transferring $1,764,737 in free cash to that fund, for a balance of $2,612,376, or 5.2% of the general fund operating budget. The Capital Stabilization fund is used for large purchases such as vehicles. Mr. Rees said in a follow-up interview that the town is trying to build up that fund before using it.
Spending articles do, therefore, include $2,076,000 for capital expenditures, mostly from free cash, including IV pumps for the (ambulance $21,000); $925,000 for a fire truck (will be borrowed); $80,000 for a public safety marina; $165,000 for a catch basin truck for the highway department; $80,000 for two police patrol vehicles; $250,000 for police radio communications system; $260,000 for an ambulance
The article to fund the regionalization study for the school department with Acushnet will be passed over because the town received a grant to cover it. TM will be asked, however, to vote to support the creation of a regionalization study committee and to authorize the study. The article will be amended to call for three representatives from each community to be on the committee, not six, as originally proposed. The change is required by the state.
Other changes to the budget and departments include bringing the recreation department into the general fund, instead of operating it as an enterprise fund. If approved, receipts from memberships will then go into the general fund.
Another department change would merge the Animal Control Department with the police department to “provide more administrative and supervisory support for the Animal Control operations.”
The police budget also funds command structure changes, including full year funding for the captain and two lieutenants position that were funded for one half year in FY17.
If the budget is approved as proposed, the fire department will get an additional firefighter/paramedic on the day shift.
Information Technology will also see some changes. The School Department and Town Hall will consolidate IT operations with $223,655 from the municipal budget and $278,224 from the school department budget for a total of $502,879.
The budget also funds a personnel director position. Mr. Rees wrote that the town lacks a “centralized personnel function resulting in inconsistent application of policies and procedures, significant exposure to legal issues from failure to adhere to federal and state personnel laws and lack of productivity as department directors have to take time from their core missions to address personnel matters.”
Articles 40 and 41 will authorize the creation of a special education reserve account out of general funds, and will put $386,453 into that account. The money will be used for unanticipated costs associated with special education students, including costs not covered by other accounts.
The Board of Public Works budget for FY18 restores leaf collection services, and includes funding to remove snow and ice from sidewalks around the closed Rogers and Oxford school buildings.
The board did not make a recommendation on article 14, which appropriates money from the Sewer Enterprise fund for a variety of projects, including the bike path project. The board still requires information on how the repairs to the bike path will be completed.
Non-spending articles include a proposed temporary moratorium on the sale and distribution of recreational marijuana. The measure would give the town time to come up with zoning and other requirements. Recreational marijuana was approved by referendum in November, but the state has yet to release rules and regulations. Municipalities across the state are passing moratoria to have time to put their own rules in place after the state releases its rules.
A citizen petition will ask town meeting to support a proposed amendment to the US Constitution that would, in effect, reverse the US Supreme Court’s decision (Citizens United) that allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence individual legislative races. The decision, effect, said that corporations have free speech rights like people and money is free speech.
Article 54 would ask the town to support HD 1988, which would state that the rights of the constitution are for “natural persons, i.e., human individuals only.”
Article 50 would remove school custodians from the civil service law, petitioned by the school committee.
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