Letter: What Happened at the ATBM

To the Editor:

Last week the Town convened the annual ATBM to permit the public to review, discuss, question, and vote on motions to approve individual line items for the Board of Selectman’s Budget, the Capital Improvement Budget, and as a single line item the Board of Education Budget. This was the first time in many years that a quorum of qualified voters (minimum 130 required) attended the meeting - officially 383 on Wednesday and 263 on Thursday evenings. The purpose of this letter is to review the results and impact of the budget amendments voted on at the ATBM and let Weston residents decide how they vote in the Annual Town Budget Referendum scheduled for this Saturday, May 4, from 12 to 8 pm in the Town Hall meeting room.

The following amendments to the Board of Selectman’s Budget (Town Operating) were approved at the department line-item level:

  1. Tax Collection Department – an amendment to reduce the Tax Collection department budget by $40,000 was approved. The recommended reduction was for the proposed 0.5 FTE increase in department personnel. This reduces the department budget increase over FY2023/24 of 39% to 9.2%.
  2. Land Use Department – an amendment to reduce the Land Use department budget by $33,081 was approved. The recommended reduction was to limit the 0.3 FTE proposed increase in department personnel to 0.1 FTE. This reduces the department budget increase over FY2023/24 of 13.4% to 6.0%.
  3. Public Works/Highway Department - an amendment to reduce the Public Works department budget by $240,000 was approved. This reduces the department budget increase over FY2023/24 (adjusted for moving out the annual paving budget) of 24.5% to 10.0%. The recommended reductions discussed were in three department areas:
    • Personnel $80,000 – By limiting the proposed 2.2 FTE increase in department personnel to 1.2 FTE.
    • Contingency budgets $120,000 – By reducing the proposed Snow Removal Overtime, Repairs to Vehicles/Equipment, and Storms, Snow, & Ice Control budgets to better align with actual overtime expenditures incurred over the last two years. Ample funding is available from the General Fund unassigned balance to cover unanticipated needs in these areas.
    • Contractual Services $40,000 – By reducing the proposed budget increase from doubling annual street sweeping and catch basin cleaning.

The requested Board of Education Budget (School Operating) of $59,339,701 was approved in full.

The following amendments to the Capital Improvement Budget were approved at the line-item level:

  1. Transportation Alternative Sidewalks – the first of two installments ($225,000), Weston’s portion of the State grant for construction of Phase 2 sidewalks was voted down.
  2. Project Mgmt./Engineering for various future projects was reduced from $250,000 to $100,000.
  3. Temporary Modular Space – Installation of new leased modular units to temporarily replace the existing Annex requested amount of $606,171 was voted down.
  4. BOE LED Audit Districtwide – requested amount of $75,000 was voted down.

Where the Budgets Stand

The amendments approved at the ABTM to the Town Operating budget total a decrease of $313,081. This reduces the proposed increase over FY2023/24 (adjusted for moving out the annual paving budget) of 8.8% to 6.4%. The final Town Operating budget for FY2024/25 now stands at $15,749,997.

There were no amendments to the School Operating budget for FT2024/25 and it now stands at $59,339,701 a 2.4% increase over FY2023/24.

The amendments to reduce the ABTM Capital Improvement budget total $1,056,171. This reduces the proposed increase over FY2023/24 of 32.3% to 1.7% leaving a total budget of $3,510,089. A non-recurring Capital Reserve offset of $679,614 from close-outs of prior year town and school projects decreases the total Capital Budget such that the final Capital Budget is $2,830,475.

The Debt Service budget previously approved by the Board of Finance is $1,053,562, a reduction from FT2023/24 of $1,914,263 (64.5%). This non-recurring reduction is from the scheduled maturity of various Town and School bonds offset by an increase of $189,312 for modular lease payments (to be voted on at a Special Town Meeting on May 16).

The resulting Total Gross Budget from these four components is $78,973,735. This is a 0.9% decline from FY2023/24. The Total Gross Budget is further reduced by projected revenues of $4,638,485 a 18.7% increase over FY2023/24. A significant portion of this increase in projected revenues come from expected earnings on town funds of 4.25% vs. 3.0% assumed in last year’s budget. This results in a Total Net budget of $74,335,250 (amount funded by property tax) a 2.1% decline from last year.

Based on the new Town-wide Grand List, the projected tax mill rate will be in the 23.4 range, a 1.8% reduction to the pre-ATBM projection.

What happens next

The Annual Town Budget Referendum provides an opportunity for town residents to vote for or against the Annual Town Budget as amended by last week’s ATBM. There are separate votes on the following three components:

  1. the Town’s proposed operating budget $15,749,997,
  2. the BOE proposed operating budget $59,339,701, and
  3. the proposed capital improvement budget $2,830,475.

Machine voting commenced immediately following adjournment of the ATBM last Thursday night and is continuing this Saturday, May 4, from 12 to 8 pm in the Town Hall meeting room. Absentee ballot voting for Qualified Voters is also available (in person only) in the Town Clerk’s office 9:00 am to 4:30 pm weekdays. There may be some availability on Saturday morning, May 4. Contact the Town Clerk’s office for more information (203)222-2616 or (203)222-2617.

Each of the three components shall be approved if a majority of Qualified Voters who vote approve that component. Assuming all three budget components are approved, the Board of Finance will set the tax mill rate for FY2024/25 at a Special Meeting on Monday, May, at 6 pm.

Referendum Outcomes

A majority YES vote on any component sets that budget for FY2024-25. A majority NO vote on any component sends the component budget back to the Board of Finance (BOF) for reconsideration. Following BOF deliberation and approval a revised component budget will be resubmitted to Qualified Voters to vote by machine ballot. If any component of the proposed Annual Town Budget is rejected again, the process described above is repeated until the full Annual Town Budget is approved.

In the event the Annual Town Budget has not been approved by July 1, the budget appropriations of FY2023/24 shall serve as an interim budget to allow for the continued operations of Town services.

Other Votes Are Coming

A Special Town Meeting has been scheduled for May 16 to approve funding for two items: [see Editor’s Note below]

  • Road resurfacing budget for this summer. The preliminary estimated budget of $4.6M is to be funded by issuance of a Bond Anticipation Note (BAN) or a combination of a BAN and a special appropriation from the General Fund. A BAN for the full amount will also increase the FY2024/25 debt service by an estimated $128,000.
  • Lease payments for new modular units. The Town seeks to enter into a lease agreement for up to five years at an annual cost of $283,968 per year. These payments would be funded through the annual Debt Service budget.

Additional details will be provided in the Notice and Call of the Special Town Meeting.

Jeffrey Farr and Theresa Brasco
Members, Board of Finance

Editor’s Note, May 3, 2024: The only item on the agenda of the May 16 Special Town Meeting referenced above is to discuss and decide whether to approve leasing unusable land at the transfer station to accommodate a solar farm. (See the Notice and this article for more information.)

A Special Town Meeting is expected to be called to possibly approve bonding for road paving, with or without a special appropriation, but has not yet been called. No action has yet been taken by either the Board of Selectmen or Board of Finance, meaning amounts of a bond issue, appropriation, and impact on debt service are speculative.

Similarly, no Special Town Meeting has yet been called to consider a lease agreement for a new modular facility to replace the Town Hall Annex. While discussions have taken place about such a lease, including at Board of Finance meetings, the Town has not yet been offered a formal agreement to consider, meaning that estimates of potential terms, costs, and budget effects are, at this point, preliminary.

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