Town Jobs, Services On The Line For Fiscal Year 2012
By: Diana T. Barth
Bourne Town Administrator Thomas M. Guerino has been predicting that Fiscal Year 2012 would be the most difficult economic year for Bourne to weather.
This week, Mr. Guerino defined exactly what he meant by “difficult.”
Mr. Guerino told selectmen during their meeting Tuesday evening that he is forecasting the possible loss of the equivalent of 22 1/2 town workers. The cuts could also result in the closure of one fire station and the elimination of some town services.
The details of those cuts have not been finalized.
Mr. Guerino began his town charter-mandated budget message to selectmen by calling FY12 “the year of greatest challenge,” one in which the town needs to cut $1,856,000 in spending.
He emphasized that the town has kept to its policy on reserves, which calls for setting aside at least 10 percent of its operating budget into savings, leaving Bourne in better shape, financially, than many other Massachusetts communities.
Since it is projected that FY13 may leave the town as economically challenged as 2012, he is not recommending keeping use of reserve funds to an absolute minimum. He recommended that the town use between $800,000 and $1 million of those reserves. His suggested budget, this early in the budget process, would use the lower end of that scale. If, after the state Legislature has announced its budget, and the town has a better idea of how much state aid to expect, the town needs to use closer to a million dollars in reserves, selectmen can always decide to do so.
Using that amount of reserves would leave some 12 percent of the operating budget in reserve for 2013 and beyond, he told selectmen, ensuring that the town keep its favorable bond rating, and thus its borrowing power.
Mr. Guerino is not recommending a Proposition 2 1/2 override this year, he told selectmen, given the poor economy and the number of residents on fixed incomes. However, he put selectmen and townspeople on notice that an override is not out of the question for FY13.
For the coming year, Mr. Guerino said, living within the town’s projected revenues is necessary, even if it means severe consequences to both the town and the school budgets.
On the town side, Mr. Guerino said, there will be no new positions funded.
The facilities manager he had hoped to add to the budget is no longer a possibility. He said that he, along with Finance Director Linda A. Marzelli and department heads, had looked at the possibility of furloughs or a reduction in office hours to balance the budget without the loss of jobs, but the furlough idea proved impractical and a simple reduction in hours would not save enough money.
Mr. Guerino said capital spending would be frozen, except for projects needed for public safety and to keep the town’s information technology intact. He noted at the same time that the town still needs a new Department of Public Works facility and a new police station, in that order.
For the first time in three years, he said, the town’s appropriation for health insurance will go up, adding that he and the finance director will continue to monitor those costs, as well as to look at alternatives to self insurance, the way the town now covers those costs.
On the revenue side of the budget, there were no increases on the horizon.
The landfill, or Bourne Department of Integrated Solid Waste Management, is expected to continue to be affected by the economic downturn, Mr. Guerino said, adding, however, that the department is well-run and has “made its numbers to date.”
Ambulance fees are stagnant, he said, and no cost-of-living increases are expected in Medicare reimbursements this year. The payment the state makes in lieu of property taxes for land it uses in Bourne are expected to go down this year, along with state aid. He expects state assessments to go up, so even if state aid is increased, the result will be “net zero” for the town.
If the forecasts prove too conservative, and the town has more money than the administrator’s first budget draft anticipates, funding will be added back into the budget, Mr. Guerino said, first for public safety, then for human services programs, and then for other services provided to residents.
Mr. Guerino reported that the town’s departments remain understaffed while the complexities town employees face continue to grow. The strain of this year’s budget, he said, leaves the town in a poor position for helping to upgrade the skills of those employees, as well as for delivering those services to citizens.
He said he and department heads worked hard to find cuts that kept as many of those services intact as possible.
Discussion is ongoing, he said, regarding some internal reorganization, looking particularly at the possibility of combining the duties of two departments, such as the sewer department and the department of public works, as well as reducing the administrative support for others.
Mr. Guerino said he is aware that, in contemplating reducing personnel, “we’re affecting many families. We do not look at these reductions lightly.” He said he and Ms. Marzelli had spent many hours working on ways to make the impact as light as possible.
Echoing what was said at last week’s joint session among selectmen, the Bourne Finance Committee and School Committee, Mr. Guerino reported that, while the town would be hit hard by this coming year’s budget, the schools would be hit harder.
While the schools use some 60 percent of the town’s overall operating budget, the town is only asking them to absorb 50 percent of the reductions, or to make some $928,000 in cuts.
Asked why he recommended that split, Mr. Guerino said that he recognized that the school department has not yet recovered from the effect of past cuts, and that its budget affects some 1,600 children.
Even with that decision, the bottom line for the schools will affect more people, he said. An elimination of step increases was negotiated with some of the town’s unions, but those increases remain intact on the school department’s side.
That means, Mr. Guerino said, that once contractual obligations are set aside, there are fewer places to cut; personnel will be impacted.
The governor’s recommended budget is expected to be released soon, but the state’s budget will not be finalized until closer to May. In the meantime, Mr. Guerino said, there is “a lot more work to be done” before Bourne’s budget is finalized.
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