May 16 2018

Town Meeting Approves $135 Million FY19 Operating Budget

By: Rich Hosford

On Monday during the first session of the May Town Meeting the town’s legislative body voted to approve the proposed Fiscal Year 2019 operating budget.

 

The total budget, a blend of both the town government and the school department, was $135,504,027. The break-down of the budget was 35 percent for Education, 33 percent for Accommodated Accounts, 25 percent for General Government and 7 percent for “other.” The budget reflects a 3.15 percent increase over FY18, which fits within Ways & Means goal of staying within a 3.25 percent increase for the year.

 

Not every individual department came in under the 3.25 percent guidelines, as was explained at the top of the discussion. Nor was that the goal. In a letter to Town Meeting members, Ways & Means said the goal was for the budget as a whole to meet the guidelines.

 

“As far as the operating expenses, please note that 3.25% is a blended number between departments,” the letter states. “This means that while some budgets are marginally higher, some are also marginally lower. The blended amount across the board for Burlington meets 3.25%.”

 

During the meeting Town Moderator William Beyer read out the total amount for each department and Town Meeting members had the option to call out “hold” to prompt further discussion.

 

Building Inspector

 

The Building Inspector’s proposed budget showed an 8.03 percent increase over FY18, prompting questions from Town Meeting members about why the office needed such a large bump in funding.

 

Town Administrator John Petrin said the reason was that the department, because of all the new development Burlington has seen, was making a part-time clerk into a full-time position.

 

“That department has been really busy,” Petrin said.

 

One member asked if the new full-time employee would be able to assist in finding code violations and enforcing Burlington’s laws.

 

Petrin said the position is in administration so they will be in the office. However, he said that the idea is that the full-time clerk’s work would free inspectors to spend more time on the road enforcing the code.

 

School Department

 

The Local Education part of the budget also garnered some questions. At $62,343,326 the department’s budget, as stated above, makes up 35 percent of the total budget. The FY19 amount reflects a 5.3 percent increase over FY18.

 

There are a number of reasons for the size of the budget, Superintendent Eric Conti explained in both a letter and during the meeting. These include funding the contractual obligations with staff, including a 1.5 percent Cost of Living increase that is included in most union contracts as well as funding to maintain class sizes and programming.

 

The biggest driver of the budget increase this year, Conti explained, was Special Education funding. Conti said that a decrease in help from the state coupled with an increase in the number of students who need special education services has attributed to the situation.

 

“We have attached the recommended FY 2019 School Committee’s Accommodated Account Budget of $10,975,670,” he wrote. “This budget essentially pays for out of district Special Education placements and transportation, including the Early Childhood Program and the Developmental Skills Special Education Program at Pine Glen School. Please note that due to the reduction in State aid Circuit Breaker assistance plus an increase in our out of district enrollment numbers because of families new to town, the proposed increase in the Accommodated Accounts Budget is greater than the 8.5% guideline. These services; however, are largely mandated by law and when state aid decreases, the local government has to pick up the difference.”

 

Public Transport

 

There was also discussion about the Public Transport line item though in this case it wasn’t about a budget increase. Town Meeting Member Monte Pearson asked about backup material that showed that the ridership has declined over the last few years and that is went down even further after the number of buses was cut from two to one this year.

 

As reported on BNEWS, last year Town Meeting voted to reduce the number of buses as a way to save money in the face of reduced ridership. There was also a plan to evaluate the program and look for possible alternatives or fixes for the future.

 

DPW Director John Sanchez, who oversees the program, said that ridership had been dropping before the bus reduction and that the number of buses was not the biggest factor in the lower number of customers.

 

“We’ve had good savings with only about a 20 percent reduction in ridership,” he said.

 

Sanchez said they have been studying the program and have been making headway but did not have a definitive solution as of yet. One possible avenue is a grant that was granted to Burlington, Lexington and Bedford to test combining the three towns’ systems. He said they are also looking into coordinating with the Council on Aging’s ridership program.


 

 
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