The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic looms over the proposed $149.8 million Fiscal Year 2022 budget for Falmouth.
“There is a lot we don’t know right now,” Finance Director Jennifer Mullen told the select board on Monday, January 4. “State aid was level-funded for FY21, but we really don’t know what will happen in FY22. They had a revenue hearing on December 15, but they really haven’t released any information on that, so I did project an 8.5 percent decrease in state aid.”
However, she projected a 15.1 percent increase in local estimated receipts.
“When you look at your spreadsheet and read your budget book, it looks like a huge increase for FY22, but that is just because we significantly decreased them in FY21. We’re getting them back to pre-pandemic levels. I feel comfortable doing that, and we do have some room in our estimated receipts,” she said.
Town Manager Julian M. Suso’s budget message to the town notes that “no budget shortfalls are projected at this time.”
The budget, up from $146.2 million in FY19, limits departments to a 1.5 percent budget increase. In a typical year, a department can increase its budget by 2.3 percent. Even with lower increases than usual, it restores a position in the town clerk’s office and implements some existing positions into the operational budget.
“As you know, with the election, voting has been expanded through mail-in voting and early voting,” Ms. Mullen said. “That is just going to continue. It really taxes the clerk’s office.”
This position previously existed, but has gone unfunded for a number of years. Also funded within the budget are the housing coordinator and the new diversity coordinator.
“This year, we have to incorporate the housing coordinator into the operating budget,” Ms. Mullen said. “As you know, the housing coordinator has been paid from the Falmouth Affordable Housing Trust Fund from money transferred in by the [community preservation committee].”
These two positions were cited in a response to board member Samuel H. Patterson, who asked why the town manager and select board’s budget is increasing by 23.29 percent for FY22.
“The percentage there is alarming, and we’ve been asking all the other departments to tighten down their budgets, so we can get through these years right now where revenues are somewhat uncertain,” Mr. Patterson said.
Noting she needed a place to implement the housing coordinator and diversity officer into the operational budget, Ms. Mullen said they were added to the town manager and select board’s budget.
“That is really what jumped it up, those two positions,” she said.
The budget also fully implements two police officers and two firefighters. Those positions were added in the FY21 budget, but only for six months. The FY22 budget includes a full year’s salary for those four positions. The budget also implements an adjusted wage schedule for AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) union members and seasonal employees.
Other projected increases within the budget include a $160,000 health insurance increase and $666,059 retirement assessment increase.
The budget also projects a 10.3 percent increase—$330,000—for the Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical High School assessment and a $795,512 increase for the Falmouth Public Schools.
“That is a hit to the schools,” Ms. Mullen said. “Usually, we give them 2.3 percent.”
The school budget will be supplemented with $500,000 from its special education stabilization fund.
“It will obviously be used for SPED,” Ms. Mullen said. “They do have some out-of-district [placements]. I do want to say, if we get some good news from state aid, that that number will go down, and I can balance their budget back up.”
She reiterated that state aid is an unknown at this time.
“The governor usually releases his budget in mid-January, and they are not even close to doing that,” Ms. Mullen said.
Even with questions remaining, she is prepared to move forward with the $149.8 million budget.
“The budget still allows for flexibility,” she said. “That is really important, because there is still a lot we don’t know.”
The select board will vote to transmit the budget to the finance committee on January 11.
The budget has been posted at www.falmouthma.gov/356/Town-Manager.
“It is very extensive, hundreds of pages long, and also includes the town manager’s budget message,” Mr. Suso said.