Board of Finance looks at future of Board of Education

At the Board of Finance meeting on Tuesday night, June 18, members debated the necessity for a charter authority discussion and how to best advise the Board of Education on the preparation of its 2014-2015 budget.

The evening began with the town status report from Chief Financial Officer Sandy Dennies, who said, “On the expenditures side, we are pretty much where we should be. I think just about everyone is doing well.”

Currently $2.8 million under budget, Ms. Dennies did express concern  she would need to address the board again in the near future to ask for charter authority if the town does not finish the year in the black.

“I’m concerned,” Ms. Dennies said. “I have not seen what will be left in each departmental budget. You can kind of see how close we are in most of the budgets and with three weeks to go, I’m hoping that we’ll be able to make it, but I don’t know.

“The books don’t close until June 30.”

After being questioned by board clerk James Meinhold, Ms. Dennies continued, “It’s three weeks of salaries, and May and June litigation bills, and it’s all of the end-of-year bills.”

Board member Andrew Pforzheimer pressed on unspent capital funds, in an effort to discover if Ms. Dennies really needed to pursue charter authority.

“Parks and Rec are at 126 out of 200. Are they going to spend the rest?” he asked.

“I don’t think that there’s a problem with Parks and Rec spending those funds,” Ms. Dennies replied. “I don’t know that they’ll be able to spend it within the next two weeks. You will remember that your charter allows capital funds to be carried over for five years. That’s the charter change that went into effect in 2009.”

Ms. Dennies believed she would need to visit the Board of Finance again in July or August — likely July — if charter authority is necessary.

On the topic of budget guidance for Fiscal Year 2015, Chairman Warren Serenbetz suggested offering guidance now for the Board of Education, as the administration will begin to work on the budget over the summer.

“We thought it might be useful to give them guidance earlier on rather than later on,” Ms. Serenbetz said.

The discussion centered around whether the guidance should be based around the mill rate increase.

“I don’t have a problem with giving them guidance on the operating budget, but I still make my decision based on the mill rate increase,” Mr. Serenbetz said. “We have to give them guidance on their operating budget that we think will lead to a mill rate increase that we want to support.”

“To me, our charter responsibility is mill rate, and I think we do an excellent job updating them with our mill rate model, translating mill rate to operating budget,” Mr. Meinhold said.

“And so, sitting here today, we can make assumptions and come up with a number that says this is what you need to be at from an operating expenses standpoint to this mill rate,” Mr. Serenbetz said.

“Agreed,” Mr. Pforzheimer said.

The board decided that Vice Chairman Lynne Vanderslice will review the mill rate model to see what impact that will have on operating increases and use that as the basis for their guidance.

Ms. Dennies returned to the podium to discuss the roofing projects at Comstock Community Center and Middlebrook School. The projects’ original estimates lacked design fees and construction management fees.

“When it went out to bid, we ended up with $162,436 beyond what had been anticipated,” she said.

Ms. Dennies did not prefer to go after charter authority for the overage, instead looking to take unused capital funds from other departments that can go into an undesignated fund balance.

“If you weren’t asking for this, you would have just released that money at the end of this year,” Ms. Vanderslice said.

“Right,” replied Ms. Dennies. “It’s not new money. It’s money that’s already been appropriated.”

The Board of Finance struggled with the notion that the bid lacked what they considered something so “basic” as design fees and construction management fees.

“First of all, I have a very hard time believing that any reputable firm would have given us a budget that didn’t include design fees,” Mr. Pforzheimer said.

“Something is wrong here,” board member Al Alper said.

“We should get the facts,” Ms. Vanderslice said.

The board decided that the discussion would need to continue in July.

“Whoever needs to be here in July, we should have here to explain why this is a surprise,” Mr. Serenbetz said.