Board of Selectmen
March 7, 2011
Selectmen’s Hearing Room, Town Hall
Al Merritt, Chairman
Robert P. MacKendrick, Selectman
Arthur J. Bourque III, Selectman
Chairman Merritt called the meeting to order at 7:01 p.m. and announced that the meeting was being recorded for the purposes of transmitting via cable television.
Budget presentation – Historical Commission
Chairman Nan Hockenbury of the Historical Commission appeared before the Board with fellow members Steve Richard and Linda Gillon to present the Commission’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposal.
Ms. Hockenbury said that while the Commission submitted a budget request that represented the Commission’s desires, it understood the Town’s financial position and would be happy with a level-funded budget.
Ms. Hockenbury reviewed work done by the Commission during the current fiscal year, including work on the Historical Center building, cataloguing of the Lynnfield Historical Society collection through software it has purchased, installation of a new sign in front of the Historical Center, compilation of a list of antique structures, and the mapping of South Cemetery as an Eagle Scout project. The Commission has also started planning for the dual celebration in 2014 of the 300th anniversary of the Meeting House and the 200th anniversary of the establishment of Lynnfield as a town.
She noted that in the past year Stephen Smith resigned from the Commission and three associate members have been added: Roy Sorli, Stephen P. Smith and Anthony Guerrero.
The Fiscal Year 2012 budget request includes the following items:
$1290 to replace 46 historic homes plaques put in place in 1976;
$2000 for equipment required for the oral history project;
$4000 for gravestone materials and repairs for the Old Burying Ground
$200 for dues for two historical associations
$300 for postage fees and grant-writing fees for a preservation survey for updating the Town’s inventory of historic sites
$2000 for matching funds for a grant for such a survey
$2500 for engraved inscription markers for historic sites
The total request is $24,790. Level-funding would result in an appropriation of $5425. Selectman MacKendrick asked what the Commission would prioritize if the budget were level funded.
Ms. Hockenbury said that the cemetery project would be funded to the extent it could from the perpetual care fund and grants. She said that if there are no matching funds for grants, it could hamper the grant-seeking process.
Chairman Merritt asked about what the Historical Society contributes to the preservation effort. Ms. Hockenbury said that the Society pays utilities for the Historical Center and shares some of the repair costs. It bears the burden of maintaining that structure and the Meeting House.
Chairman Merritt thanked the Commission for its work and complimented them on how much they get done. He said the Board hopes it can support the Commission’s efforts and help it meet its goals.
Budget presentation – School Committee
Superintendent of Schools Robert Hassett and School Committee Chairman Dorothy Presser appeared before the Board with other members of the School Committee and School Finance Director Thomas Geary to present the School Department Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposal.
Mr. Hassett said that the school budget request includes a 7.1 percent increase in administration expenses, mostly related to technology; level-funding of expenses at the Middle School and two elementary schools; a 6 percent increase at the High School related to the ten-year New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) reaccreditation process, a 21.5 percent ($199,360) increase in special education out-of-district tuitions and a 27.5 percent ($63,000) increase in out-of-district transportation.
Despite the large percentage increases in special education costs, Mr. Hassett said that Lynnfield’s rate of increase is lower than the state average.
On the salary side of the budget, the total salary budget is increasing by 4.7 percent. That reflects moving one technology position from part-time to full-time and moving a position from grant funding to Town budget funding at the middle school.
Mr. Hassett reviewed past federal and state recognition received by Lynnfield schools and its recent performance on the MCAS exam, including placing first in Math and English in the state at the grade 4 level and third in English, eleventh in math and ninth in science at the grade 10 level.
He also noted that according to the most recent figures compiled by the state, for Fiscal Year 2009, the average statewide per-pupil expenditure was $13,006, compared to $10,600 for Lynnfield. The Town would have to raise school spending by $5 million to match the statewide average. In response to a question by Chairman Merritt, Mr. Hassett said that a set of strict guidelines ensures that all school-related costs are reported in the same fashion by each district. Mr. Geary said capital and debt costs are not reported in this per-pupil-expenditure calculation.
Mr. Hassett said the gap in per-pupil expenditure between the state and Town is widening, and has doubled since Fiscal Year 2006. He said that while the Town is 39th of 351 Massachusetts communities in median income, it ranks 281st in per-pupil spending. He said the Lynnfield schools are doing a better job with less money.
Chairman Merritt said that central administration is bare compared to most school districts. Mr. Hassett said many districts have assistant superintendents, out-of-district special education coordinators and curriculum directors.
Mr. Hassett noted that enrollment was under 2000 in Fiscal Years 2003 and is now over 2200. Chairman Merritt said the graph shows enrollment approaching 2300. Mr. Hassett said that is based on the projection used by the Massachusetts School Building Authority. He said that he expected school enrollment will continue to grow. The noted that since Fiscal Year 2009, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers and specialist positions in the School Department has increased only from 182.2 to 183.9. The FTE for aides has increased from 50.1 to 55.1, chiefly due to special education requirements. Administration has remained level and the central office has increased from 8.4 to 9.2 (from making the business manager full-time and with the proposal to do the same with a part-time technology position).
Mr. Hassett reviewed the School Committee’s class size guidelines and said that if budget cuts were made, class sizes would be affected. He noted that studies linked lower class sizes with academic achievement.
This year, the budget goals include the protection of current programs and services, addressing increasing enrollment at the High School and Middle School, and enhancing professional development.
The staffing request included new teachers at the high school for science and physical education, and a part-time guidance counselor and a pert time vocational-rehabilitation counselor. The Middle School sought a math teacher and the elementary schools sought a literacy aide. Technology requested the FTE of 1.5 new positions. Expense budget requests included increases of $199,360 in out-of-district tuition, $63,384 in out-of-district transportation, and two elementary aides added in Fiscal Year 2011 due to students with special needs who moved into the district. Other expenses include $25,000 for photocopiers and $25,000 for the NEASC reaccreditation process.
Mr. Geary said that the step increases for teachers increase the salary budget by about two percent, of $400,000.
There are 348 students in the special education program, about 15 percent of the student population, which is lower than the state average. The schools perform a number of interventions before a student is placed into special services. Special education expenses are up 20 percent overall, or $271,244. Work has been done to lower transportation costs. In response to a question on that subject by Chairman Merritt, Mr. Hassett said that he meets monthly with Mr. Geary and the special services director on special education costs.
The schools are also using $116,716 in circuit breaker funds but will receive no federal stimulus funds this year. Special education grants totaled $844,369 in the current fiscal year. A state grant for coordinator programming and mid-cycle reviews has been eliminated. State aid, federal funds and Town revenue are all down. Over the last three years, the School Department has returned $258,045 in unexpended appropriations to the Town.
Underfunding of the budget could result in class sizes of 30 and more students, more special education referrals and increased out-of-district placements. Programs would be reduced or eliminated. If the budget increase is only two percent, several positions and programs will be cut or eliminates. If the budget must be reduced by 3.3 percent, an additional 19 teaching positions will be cut on top of all cuts that would have to be made in the budget calling for a two-percent increase.
Chairman Merritt and Selectman MacKendrick thanked Mr. Hassett for the thorough presentation.
General budget discussion
Mr. Gustus told the Board he had put together a list of possible cuts to the proposed budget and that the Town will be asking residents to pay a little more for the services they receive. Half the gap in the budget would be closed by concessions from Town employees in the area of health benefits. This is under discussion with the Insurance Advisory Committee. The concessions would be in the area of higher deductibles and copayments, resulting in lower premiums. The percentage of employee and Town contributions for premiums would remain unchanged. Mr. Gustus pointed out that the percentage of employee contribution toward premiums in Lynnfield is higher than in most municipalities. He said this change in plan design is necessary top bring health insurance costs under control.
Four other proposals would eliminate the remainder of the gap between projected expenditures and revenues.
Imposition of the local option meals sales tax would result in estimated revenue of $125,000 annually. Mr. Gustus pointed out that most Lynnfield residents are paying this tax when they dine out in other communities; Lynnfield received no benefit.
The Town offers certain services that benefit specific groups. Rather than seeking a general override of Proposition 2-1/2, the Town can offset some or all of these costs by the imposition of or increase in user fees. The School Committee is considering imposition of a busing fee for students who reside outside of the mandated busing zones under state law, or reducing busing to the level required by state law. This would provide additional revenue, reduce busing costs, or both.
A variety of increases in municipal fees is also under consideration, including alcohol licenses, municipal liens, roadway permits, building fees and others set by the Board or by general bylaw. There are also a number of areas in which the Town subsidizes various groups with low user fees for Town facilities, including school buildings, fields and parks.
The largest revenue generator being proposed is the imposition of a “pay-as-you-throw” (PAYT) trash collection program. Mr. Gustus said he is aware this proposal has come before town meeting previously, but said not in circumstances as dire as they are currently. The most equitable way of imposing a fee for trash collection, PAYT would encourage recycling and allows residents to reduce their costs by doing so. A family of four will generally only need a single 33-gallon container per week, at a fee of $1.75 per bag, or $120 per year. Residents can also purchase 15-gallon bags for $1 per bag, which will generally be adequate for a two-person household, for a cost or roughly $60 per year.
These measures, if all approved, would close the $1.525 million budget gap without an override. Formal presentations will be made to inform the residents about these proposals.
Chairman Merritt asked about a hearing at the State House on legislation related to the state Group Insurance Commission (GIC) and municipal employee health insurance. Mr. Gustus said that there is a bill field that would allow municipalities to more easily join GIC. While municipalities must negotiate any changes in plan design with its employee bargaining units, the GIC may make these changes unilaterally.
Mr. Gustus said he was testifying in favor of the Governor’s proposal, which would allow cities and towns to enroll their employees in the GIC plan only after a period of expedited bargaining in which municipalities would have an opportunity to reach an agreement on an alternate plan. The Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) proposal would take away from employee bargaining units any bargaining rights over plan design. The unions should have a seat at the table, but not veto power, over plan design, Mr. Gustus believes. Under the MMA plan, the municipalities receive all the savings, which Mr. Gustus said is not necessarily fair, as the GIC plans are cheaper in part because they shift costs from the employer to the employee in the form of larger copayments and deductibles. The current plans offered by the Town
are too generous, Mr. Gustus said. But shifting all the costs at one time is not fair.
Total savings from the cost-saving program totals about $1 million. Some of the savings would be set aside to assist in payment of deductibles and copayments.
Mr. Gustus said switching health insurance plans is a monumental task due to forms, plan choices and payroll deductions. The employee deductions would have to begin on June 1 for a July 1 start date, which gives the Town a short window of opportunity. Several meetings with union representatives have been schedule, with the hope of reaching a reasonable compromise late in March. The deal must be struck before town meeting.
Chairman Merritt said that the plan would be fair and encourages behavior that would keep costs down. Mr. Gustus said that the plan would encourage users to make responsible choices. The copayment structure would encourage patients to visit the doctor’s office rather than the emergency room when appropriate. Prescription drug copayments are tiered.
Chairman Merritt said that the spending and revenue plan would be presented at town meeting. He said the Board is working with Mr. Gustus and the Finance Committee on how to provide as much information to voters. He said no one wants to see more fees and taxes, but that people value to services they receive from government. He said the voters will ultimately decide whether to adopt this plan, pass an override, or see services and personnel cut.
He said that thus far Lynnfield has not suffered the reductions in service other communities have experiences, due to careful financial management. The Town built reserves in anticipation of cuts in state aid and lower local receipts, but has had to draw these down in the face of declining state and local receipts. State aid has declined by $800,000 while the Town’s share of health insurance premiums has increased by $1.4 million.
The School Department’s per-pupil rate of expenditure is well below the state average. The hybrid full-time and call firefighting force and a modestly staffed police force also keep costs down. While Lynnfield is not an inexpensive place to live, residents have chosen to live in a town with a minimal commercial/business sector. Only six percent of the tax base is from that sector.
The budget being prepared for Fiscal Year 2012 is a level-services budget. The Board is seeking to apportion the additional cost of funding this budget so that 75 percent of it is borne by specific users of services and not the taxpayers.
Opening of warrants
Mr. Gustus said that the warrants for the annual and special town meetings to be held on Monday, April 25, 2011 should be declared open so that residents would have the opportunity to submit warrant articles by petition in addition to those submitted by Town boards and committees. The Town Clerk can assist residents with the petition process. The warrants will be closed on Monday, March 21, 2011
On the motion of Selectman MacKendrick, seconded by Chairman Merritt, the Board voted unanimously (Selectman Bourque absent) to open the annual town meeting warrant.
On the motion of Selectman MacKendrick, seconded by Chairman Merritt, the Board voted unanimously (Selectman Bourque absent) to open the special town meeting warrant.
In other business
Chairman Merritt reminded the public that the Finance Committee’s annual public hearing on the budget will be held on Wednesday, March 23, at 7:00 p.m. in the Selectmen’s Hearing Room, Town Hall.
Chairman Merritt said the Board is still considering a request to use the common for a private party.
On the motion of Selectman MacKendrick, seconded by Chairman Merritt, the Board voted unanimously (Selectman Bourque absent) to approve the minutes of the February 7, 2011 meeting as submitted.
On the motion of Selectman MacKendrick, seconded by Chairman Merritt, the Board voted unanimously (Selectman Bourque absent) to adjourn the meeting at 8:26 p.m.