Holding a “post-mortem” discussion on Tuesday, June 18, about this year’s budget process, the Board of Finance agreed its “budget guidance” policy needs to be re-guided.
In April, the board drew fire from the public as well as from some of its own members for issuing budget guidance recommendations to the town and schools and then cutting back on them.
Budget guidance refers to a recommendation made during the budget process by the finance board regarding the town and education budget requests.
In October 2018, the finance board issued a 2-percent increase budget guidance for the Board of Selectmen’s budget and a 1.6-percent increase for the education budget for FY 2020.
Both boards came in under the recommended budget guidance — the selectmen at 0.92 percent and the school board at 1.35 percent.
However, instead of approving the town and school budget requests, the finance board voted on April 2 to keep both budgets flat, at a zero-percent increase — cutting $1,107,044 from the education request and $309,305 from the town’s request.
The April 2 vote came the day after a tri-board meeting of the selectmen, finance and school boards. At that meeting, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice explained there would be a decrease in the grand list from the recent property revaluation, dropping by 2.08 percent. She said there could also be financial impact on the town depending on what the state did with its budget.
The revaluation numbers were a game-changer, according to Republican members of the finance board, who in a 4-2 vote along party lines decided to reject the proposed budget increases and keep the town and school budgets flat.
After that vote, budget supporters complained about the finance board’s turnaround.
Democrat finance board member John Kalamarides wrote a commentary for the Bulletin explaining why he voted against keeping the budgets flat. “It makes no sense not to fund our schools and our town budget with their requested increases. There is no justification in making an 11th-hour voting block decision that goes against everything that was done in preparation for the Town Meeting and ignoring the exhaustive and thorough eight-month review process,” he wrote.
Ultimately, both budgets passed by a wide margin at the referendum in May.
At Tuesday’s meeting, finance board chair Jeff Rutishauser acknowledged problems with the budget guidance.
“In a revaluation year, all bets are off, so it effectively created a misguidance because we didn’t know if the grand list would be down 10 percent ... Maybe we shouldn’t look at guidance models in revaluation years,” he said.
He noted that the “budget guidance” model was designed in an era of a “non-revaluation” year and had been used a number of times previously with success.
He expressed concern that the budget guidance had become a “safe harbor” for the selectmen and school board. “If they come in above the guidance they believe they will get rough treatment from the finance board, but if they come in under the guidance, they believe it’s smooth sailing. That may be a wrong way of reading it. It was designed to be a plus or minus target,” he said.
Lack of discussion
Lack of discussion