Letter: Objections to Budgets

To the Editor:

We had concerns coming into this year’s budget cycle that the mill rate reduction resulting from the townwide revaluation would be used as cover for the Town Administration to justify an increase in the Town operating budget. Similarly, that the nearly $2M scheduled reduction in debt service would be taken up by additional capital improvement projects. Unfortunately, we were right on both counts!

The Town Operating Budget increase advertised as a 4.45% increase over last year, is actually an 8.4% increase on an apples-to-apples basis since the annual DPW Road Resurfacing line item (which averaged $586k over the last four years) was not included in this budget. This expenditure, currently estimated at $4.6 million next year, has been reclassified as a Capital Improvement, removed from the budget and is intended to be funded by the issuance of bonds and/or a drawdown from the general fund approved at a later Town Meeting. While the contractual annual increase in labor wage and benefits is 3%, the proposed 8% increase includes a workforce increase of 5.4 FTEs and an 11% increase in contractual services.

In response, at the April 4th BOF meeting, we proposed a package of reductions to the proposed increases totaling $393,796 in the following areas:

- Reduce Wages and Benefits by not hiring an HR Manager in Administration & Finance and a Facilities Manager in Public Works, and by not increasing two part-time employees to full-time in the Tax Collection department

- Reduce a portion of Contractual Services and Equipment Repairs in the Public Works department

- Reduce a portion of General Maintenance in the Tree Warden department.

The impact of this proposed package would have brought the overall increase in the Town Operating Budget down to 5.6%; still a troubling amount as it increases fixed expenses on a go forward basis which we do not believe is sustainable. Our proposed package was voted down and no other items were suggested for reducing the Town operating budget.

The initial Net Capital Budget request was for $4,486,248, a $1,069,252 (31.3%) increase over last year. The school portion ($1,526,500) was reduced by $230,000 by pulling three projects into the current fiscal year, which are expected to be funded by a special appropriation from the Town’s general fund in anticipation of this year’s BOE projected surplus. At the April 4th BOF meeting we proposed a package of reductions totaling $831,171 to the town portion in the following areas:

- Defer a 5-year lease of new modular units to replace the current Annex

- Reduce a portion of the Construction Management amount

- Reduce a portion of the Project Management/Engineering Service amount.

Our basis for deferring entry into a 5-year lease for new modular units was the overall cost for a temporary solution, lack of input from the building committee, and to perceived risks with the current Annex. The Construction Management and Project Management/Engineering Service line-items lack specificity on what projects the amounts are being applied to merit approval. Our proposed package was voted down. No other capital improvement line-items were proposed for reducing the town portion of the capital budget. However, an additional offset of $266,021 was identified from previously completed town projects.

The initial School Operating Budget request was for $59,598,328, a $1,653,273 (2.85%) increase over last year. Over the last five years we have seen annual surpluses averaging $1M per year. This means residents have been overtaxed for school operations with the surpluses returned to the general fund. Our view is that some tightening is in order and determined that $400,000 (0.65%) was an appropriate amount to reduce the overall operating budget. The Finance Director has already identified $172,000 in reductions through vendor negotiations with several others pending. We also have a strong general fund balance to cover any unanticipated needs. Our motion to reduce the school operating budget by $400,000 was approved resulting in a school operating increase of 2.2%.

On the revenue side, the town and school administrations are projecting an increase in revenues of $729,765 (18.7%) over last year which dilutes, but not justify, all the increases mentioned above and results in a mill rate in the range of 23.9. It bears reminding that we can control spending but not revenue and the majority of that “revenue” comes out of the taxpayers back pocket through local user fees, State and Federal income taxes.

Our concern is the incremental increase in fixed spending and its compounding into the future. There’s no long-term planning, multi-year budgeting, optimization of facilities and services, and long-term commitment to restraint. We are hearing of houses not selling because of high property taxes but that is only part of the increasing expense of living in Weston. Home maintenance, utility, heating oil and insurance expenses have all increased significantly in the last few years. If you are concerned by this situation, please consider coming out to the ATBM on Wednesday, April 24, at 8:00 pm in the Weston High School auditorium where you will have an opportunity to consider, discuss and act on the proposed FY24/25 budgets.

Jeffrey Farr, Rone Baldwin, Theresa Brasco
Members, Board of Finance


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