Town Meeting Preview
By: Christopher Kazarian
On Tuesday the second Special Town Meeting in the past four months will be held in the auditorium of the Lawrence School at 7 PM.
While the last one paved the way for Falmouth to seek federal stimulus money for a second wind turbine at the Wastewater Treatment Facility, this one will have a much different tone as Town Meeting members grapple with a roughly $3.2 million shortfall from the previous and current fiscal year budgets.
Chairman of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen Mary (Pat) Flynn was hopeful that Town Meeting will support town officials’ recommendations for the various articles, intended to immediately address the town’s budgetary woes by slashing individual department budgets across the board to account for the $2.2 million deficit this current fiscal year.
Those cuts would be made in Article 4 of the Special Town Meeting warrant.
Article 1 constitutes the remaining $1 million of the town’s overall deficit and pertains to the previous fiscal year. The recommendation by Falmouth Town Manager Robert L. Whritenour Jr. is to make up this money by tapping into the town’s rainy day funds.
Article 2 and Article 3, if approved, would increase the local options taxes for hotel/motels as well as restaurants, but neither is being supported by selectmen or the Falmouth Finance Committee.
Ms. Flynn admitted there are some who may prefer alternative solutions, such as cutting and freezing wages or negotiating furloughs, to address the economic predicament facing the town.
While these may represent options in the future, she said, “I think it was best we try to reduce the budget and cut what we could without going after the employees.”
This will help the town, she said, prepare for the Fiscal Year 2011 budget, which the town is currently working on. “By cutting as much as we could out of the other line items this takes us into 2011 with a really bare bones budget, and we can build it from there,” she said.
She said there are some estimates that the FY2011 budget could be even tighter than the current one, which could translate into the aforementioned wage cuts or furloughs. These budgetary strategies could come into play in January when Falmouth Town Manager Robert L. Whritenour Jr. will begin negotiations with the town’s unions as their current contracts all end on June 30 of next year.
These options, Ms. Flynn said, should be tied into next year’s budgetary discussions.
She called on Town Meeting members to support the proposals being put forth now although she admitted they were simply short-term solutions to a long-term problem—expenses outpacing revenues.
“We don’t have enough revenue to support the services being provided,” she said. “We seriously have to look at the status of our revenues. Obviously raising taxes right now is not an option.”
She said the town should consider the potential for raising fees, but first must determine whether they are at the proper level to justify the services being provided.
Selectman Brent V.W. Putnam admitted that Town Meeting members “do not have many options” and predicted they will approve the articles as recommended.
He said there will be some room for debate, noting that some residents think that at least the local options tax for hotel/motels should be increased.
He also said that Town Meeting members will cast a suspicious eye on the fact that in April town officials were fine with the budget and now, just a few months later, “things have gone downhill fast. People are going to look at that closely.”
He, himself, has closely analyzed the discrepancy between the 2009 and 2006 town budgets, noting there has been a 15 percent increase between that four-year period. He termed that a “hefty increase,” arguing that while some departments, like the police department only saw a modest increase of four percent during that time, others went up 15 to 20 percent “which raises some eyebrows,” he said.
While he has been critical of several line items at previous Town Meetings, including the out-of-state travel for the town manager’s department, he said he did not intend to raise that issue on Tuesday, but feels it still is a subject of much consternation.
While there are times when travel is warranted, he said, referencing public safety officials as a prime example, he said there was no need last week for Falmouth Town Manager Robert L. Whritenour Jr. to attend the annual conference of the International City Management Association in Montreal.
He said there was no logical reason for Mr. Whritenour to attend when he could have accomplished the same thing at his desk through distance learning, something the ICMA touts on its website.
In terms of Ms. Flynn’s long-term suggestion to look at revenue, Mr. Putnam wanted to trim the fat, such as this from the budget, before looking at ways to raise taxes or fees. “Right now there are some sacred cows in the budget and out-of-state travel is one of those things,” he said. “I raised this last year and the board accused me of micromanaging.”
There is also one petitioners article, submitted by Marc P. Finneran of Trotting Park Road, Teaticket, that could generate some interesting conversation. That one asks selectmen to appoint an independent auditor to audit the Department of Public Works for potential waste, fraud, and abuse.
Selectmen have voted indefinite postponement, but Mr. Putnam said he did “not think [Mr. Finneran] is too far off the mark...Why not do an audit? Why not do a good comprehensive examination of the financial well-being of various departments?”
While he did not think it would pass, Mr. Putnam had suggested to Mr. Whritenour and Ms. Flynn that they sit down with Mr. Finneran to see what his concerns are and where he thought fraud or abuse was taking place. “I’m not sure they followed through with that,” Mr. Putnam said.
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