Guerino Delivers Bad News about Bourne Budget
By: Michael J. Rausch, January 30, 2014
It was a dire budget message delivered by town administrator Thomas M. Guerino to a joint session of the Bourne Board of Selectmen and the Bourne Finance Committee Tuesday night.
Addressing a community building conference room filled with town department heads, Mr. Guerino said that substantial increases in state and county assessments, as well as general insurance costs, are overburdening next year’s budget. To reach his balanced budget, significant cuts had to be made to human service spending, as well as the deferment or elimination of some positions.
Mr. Guerino started off his 25-minute address by quoting the Grateful Dead.
“When life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door,” he said.
He noted that the town was having a good year, financially, and he was feeling good about the direction the town was headed going from 2013 into 2014 when things started to take a downward turn.
“The budget clearly shows that even the best fiscal management practices can be thwarted with only one or two shocks to the system,” he said.
Mr. Guerino said that he has created a balanced budget for next year, but in balancing the budget, he has had to reduce town-provided services by more than $750,000 from his original recommended budget of roughly $56 million.
He went on to cite a surprising growth in the amount assessed the town by the Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School as being a major contributor to the town’s budget woes. He said that the assessment from UCT for next year is $758,000, an increase of 35 percent.
That increase, along with a decrease in the number of students in the Bourne public school system, led Mr. Guerino to recommend a reduction of $863,000 from the school department’s proposed budget for next year.
Mr. Guerino also noted substantial increases in insurance costs as additionally contributing to the town’s budget problems. He said that the increases have necessitated some severe personnel decisions, including the deferment of a promotion in the police department and the creation of an assistant fire chief position in the fire department.
In addition, some departments within town government would be reconfigured, and as a result of that reconfiguration, some positions, both management and non-management, would be eliminated. Mr. Guerino said that he is also looking at the possibility of furloughs in lieu of some of the proposed personnel reductions.
Mr. Guerino said that he was not prepared to list the specific staff reductions. He said that his hope is there will be fewer reductions necessary once the state has put together its budget and there is a better sense of what aid the town can expect from Beacon Hill. While he did not elaborate on possible cuts, he did note that he was not proposing any reduction in personnel at the Bourne Council on Aging.
“However, I am proposing the elimination of all human service organization expenses with the exception of the Bourne Friends Food Pantry and the Visiting Nurse Association,” he said.
Mr. Guerino also suggested that the town consider raising certain fees. He recommended that the town consider raising fees on moorings, beach stickers, marina slips and all liquor licenses. He estimated that the town could raise roughly $90,000 in revenue if they raised those fees. He also recommended that Bourne join a host of other towns across the Cape and the commonwealth and adopt a local meals tax, which he acknowledged was not a popular idea but could raise an additional $300,000 for the town.
Despite the dire description of the town’s financial status, and after the substantial budget reductions, the town’s overall financial position will remain in compliance with current fiscal policy, Mr. Guerino said. He said that the town’s bond rating is excellent with the most recent borrowing rate at less than two percent. He suggested that the town take advantage of the current low borrowing rates to address some long-neglected facility needs, such as replacing the police station.
Mr. Guerino said that while the proposed budget does meet the expectations of the town’s residents in terms of its size, programs and services offered by the town “will be lessened and noticeable.”
He said that the proposed budget “begins to systematically decrease the ability to attend to municipal needs.”
In order to provide those services that residents have come to expect, town officials need to consider a Proposition 2 1/2 override to fund general government, he said. He suggested that such an override should be considered for next year’s budget, FY 2016.
Selectman Peter J. Meier asked Mr. Guerino how much would be requested in an override, and how long the money would last before the town would have to turn to taxpayers again. Mr. Guerino hesitated to give a precise figure, but he would expect it to be several million dollars “at a minimum.” He also said that he expected funds generated from that override to last anywhere from five to 10 years.
Selectman Linda M. Zuern commented she had recently heard that the state spends roughly $1.8 billion dollars on illegal immigration programs. If that money were instead spent on cities and towns across the commonwealth, it could mean millions in municipal funding for towns like Bourne, Ms. Zuern said.
“Priorities are not in place. Our children need that money, too; our towns are suffering,” she said.
Finance committee assistant chairman Mary Jane Mastrangelo noted that Bourne has a large amount in cash reserves, and suggested that, if an override is inevitable, the town dip into those cash reserves this year “so we don’t have draconian cuts and we can really provide the services.”