The Board of Finance, at its Oct. 20 meeting, voted to defer setting budget guidance for the Board of Selectmen’s fiscal year 2016 operating budget until November.
Board member Al Alper suggested the board postpone its budget guidance decision to see which first selectman candidate is elected, because, he said, the two candidates — Lynne Vanderslice and Deborah McFadden — are “distinctly different” in terms of fiscal conservatism.
Board member Richard Creeth, who wound up being the only member to oppose the motion to defer setting the guidance, originally said he “sort of” agreed with Alper’s idea to postpone, but for different reasons. “I wonder how meaningful a guideline we can set tonight, and it’d be kind of nice to get more of a sense of what the new incoming first selectman is going to do, because I have reservations about these guidelines,” said Creeth.
“I reluctantly agree that it’s a good idea to set the tone of whether that should be a percentage guideline or not — it’s a challenge and I worry about it. I see what the union raises are and we all know our biggest expense is labor and most of our expense is union labor. I don’t know how you can come in at 0% because … labor rates are going up by 2% to 2.5%.”
The finance board set a 1.75% operating budget guideline last year, which Controller Rich McArdle said was sent out to the town departments “with the understanding that they’ll come back with what they think they need, which in some cases is lower than 1.75%, and then it gets redone and put into the whole pot and see what happens.”
McArdle said there are needs that are going to be higher than the Board of Finance’s budget guideline.
The finance board does see that happen year after year, said board member Lynne Vanderslice, who also pointed out that the selectmen board receiving the budget guidance “is not going to be the same board that’s going to be making the decision” on the budget.
“We have the choice to not set an operating budget guidance percentage and to set a do-the-best-you-can, then come back and address it after the elections with the new Board of Selectmen and decide then what the budget guidance will be,” said Chair Warren Serenbetz, later adding that his recommendation would be to tell the selectmen to “budget as tightly as they can.”
Board member John Kalamarides said he felt good about deferring the budget guidance until next month so the board can get “a better idea.”
Kalamarides, Serenbetz, Vanderslice, Alper, and board member Jeff Rutishauser all voted in favor of deferring the setting of the Board of Selectmen operating budget guidance until November. Creeth opposed the motion after Rutishauser questioned whether the board is really going to know much more next month about what an appropriate budget guidance would be.
The Board of Finance’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 7:30 p.m. in Room B of town hall.