|House Draft Budget Restores $31K to Clarksburg|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
10:30PM / Wednesday, April 11, 2012
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Town officials are pinning their hopes on the House draft budget released today that increases local and school aid from that presented by the governor earlier this year.
Clarksburg officials were cheered by news that the state would likely give them more money but still need to know their free cash before making anymore decision.
Just last week, selectmen and Finance Committee members were preparing to "nickel and dime" a 2013 budget that was more than $50,000 above the town's levy capacity.
The House Ways and Means Committee released a $32.3 billion budget that reflects an increase in tax revenues of $940 million. It includes $164 million more in Chapter 70 school aid over this year and fully funds unrestricted government aid at $899 million, about $60 million more than the governor's budget.
For Clarksburg, that translates to $22,000 more in local aid and $9,000 in education aid, said committee Chairwoman Mary Beverly, who urged the Senate to also support it. (The House takes up the full budget later this month.)
"Everyone needs to lobby Ben Downing's office to tell him to vote for this budget," said Beverly on Wednesday night, adding she was confident the measure would pass. "They were saying all along that they were going to level fund Chapter 70."
Committee member Linda Ethier expressed disquiet at building a budget on a yet-to-be-voted state spending plan. "How far do you trust the Legislature?" she asked. "I think it's kind of dicey."
Beverly and Selectman Chairman Carl McKinney, however, said all local budgets are based on state predictions — and even if the state budget was passed, Beacon Hill could cut it or add to it before the year was out.
Beverly and committee member Paula Wells voted in favor using the House draft as a starting point. "You could end up being right and sit there and laugh at us later," Beverly told Ethier.
The joint meeting of the Finance Committee and Selectmen determined that for now, they would ask the School Committee to cut $16,000 from its 2013 budget. The school had been asked to look for $25,000 to $30,000 in cuts but delayed until it was determined how much free cash the town had in hand. School Committee member Jeffrey Levanos said his board would set a special meeting to review its budget.
The school budget is currently $2,319,000; the town budget is unsettled but will likely be just over $1 million.
Town officials tentatively decided to dip into the stabilization fund to cover the more than 250 percent increase in veterans services estimated for the coming year. The state will reimbursement 75 percent of the cost but not until next fiscal year.
"Veterans benefits is going up but this one year we have no reimbursement from the state," said Beverly. "This year, we spend $60,000. ... Instead of just sucking it up from taxes let's use the stabilization fund."
Selectman Chairman Carl McKinney agreed that a one-time hit of the fund for a one-time cost made sense if the voters agreed. He had first suggested using "every dime of free cash" for the unfunded state mandate but Beverly rejected the idea, saying it could put the town in a bind next year.
The veterans benefits would be about $45,000 out of the $170,000 stabilization fund. McKinney reminded the committee that the town also had to make good on about $55,000 in overruns for dealing with Hurricane Irene damage.
Federal funding had reimbursed 75 percent of the costs but indications that the state might kick in more never came to fruition.
He suggested taking the money out of the stabilization fund. "That would leave $129,000 in stabilization," he said "But I'm uncomfortable with that."
"I'm very uncomfortable with that," said Beverly.
But officials were stymied in making any firm decisions because the town's free cash had yet to be certified. That had been expected to be done by the end of last week but the documents couldn't be submitted to the state until the tax collector provided figures.
"I feel that I'm wasting my time here," said Beverly. The boards agreed to meet again within the next two weeks.