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Board Of Finance Approves Budget To Send To Voters

Following public hearing that drew questions, suggestions, and support from residents, 1.63 percent increase to $71.8 million approved for 2012-2013; Budget would increase mil rate of 19.43 about .31 to .37.

 

Following a budget hearing Monday night attended by about 80 people, the Board of Finance voted unanimously to send voters a budget of $71,876,644 for 2012-2013, a 1.63 percent increase over the 2011-2012 approved budget of $70,721,039.

Town residents will get to vote on the Board of Finance approved budget during a referendum May 15, 2012.

During the meeting Monday night at Polson Middle School, town officials talked about their decision making process and how they arrived at the figures presented during the meeting.

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Board of Finance Chairman Jennifer Tung, among other topics, talked about the importance of the town's capital budgets and how those accounts make Madison different from other towns that pay for capital improvements only by borrowing.

"We put a little aside very year"

"Unlike other towns, we manage to put a little bit aside every year," she said. "That makes it possible for us to reduce the amount of borrowing we otherwise would do."

Increases made to capital reserve funds in next year's budget include about $165,930 for accounts that include North Madison Fire Co. apparatus and equipment, Madison Hose Co. No. 1 apparatus, Ambulance, public works/town vehicles, police vehicles, major roads, and the town's Long Term Capital Maintenance Fund (LoCAP). 

LoCAP project scheduled to begin in 2012-2013 include replacing a boiler at Polson Middle School, repairing the roof of the Arts Barn at Town Campus, and installing synthetic turf and relocating/repairing the bleachers at Strong Field for a total of $1,265,000. In 2011-2012, the town began projects worth about $1,963,000.

Incremental costs of new facilities

Tung also discussed the incremental costs of new facilities. Constitution Park will cost an additional $676,386 a year, when debt service of $654,248 and maintenance/trash of $22,138 are taken into account. The maintenance and trash costs for 2012-2013 are for a half year that the park is expected to be in operation, and are expected to double the following year.

The incremental increase in cost of the Senior Center, over the cost of running it out of the old Town Depot, is $342,039, including debt service of $322,715. And the incremental increase in cost for the new Ambulance Center, over the old Ambulance Center, is $176,248, including $166,248 in debt service.

Tung said the mil rate, which currently is 19.43, would increase about 0.31 to 0.37. If the Board of Finance approved budget is approved at referendum without changes, the final mil rate will be set using the most current grand list.

A standing ovation for Dotty Bavin

Following her presentation, Tung praised and thanked Madison Finance Director Dotty Bavin, who will be retiring at the end of June after many years of service with the town. Bavin received a standing ovation from the people in attendance, many of whom were town employees.

Madison resident Bob Roxborough was the first to speak during the public comment session of the meeting and he asked two questions, one about an account that rewards employees for not taking time off, and another relating to the pension administration costs. 

Barbara Davis, another Madison resident, suggested that the town fix East Wharf and West Wharf, damaged during tropical storm Irene, before making the improvements to the Surf Club. She said that should be a higher priority, because if another storm comes before East Wharf and West Wharf are fixed, that having them in disrepair might have a negative effect on the surrounding residential areas.

"The issue of one of resources in the engineering department"

First Selectman Fillmore McPherson said East Wharf and West Wharf are not being put off due to a lack of funds, but that they are scheduled to be completed at a later date than some other town projects, because there is only so much the town can take on at once in terms of designing and engineering projects. "The issue is one of resources in the engineering department," he said. "They are swamped with projects."

Town officials noted that the 2012-2013 budget includes funds for new engineering assistant for the town, which should help the town deal with some of the backlog.

Jim Deephouse, another Madison resident, said he is looking forward to next year's budget when the town would have an opportunity to "seriously address declining enrollment." He added, however, that it will also be important for the town to "maintain the high standards you currently have" for the schools. "You'll have a challenge to keep up the good work," he said. He also questioned why utilities, including electricity and heating accounts, were not lower.

Impressed with what he saw

Madison resident Art Symonds said he has attended many Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen meetings in recent months to follow the budget process, and that he was impressed with what he saw.

"There were no easy questions," he said. "The process was demanding and difficult. The process was painstaking ... they agonized over their decisions and the priorities of the town," he said. Symonds said he thought the boards came up with reasonable compromises and said he supported the budget. The audience applauded his comments, as they did with other speakers who followed, all of whom spoke in favor of the budget.

Emily Eisenlohr was one of several parents of children in Madison schools who spoke in favor of the school budget and said she wanted to encourage the town not to make too many cuts as enrollment continues to decline. 

"We are investing in the future of Madison"

Spider Bulyk said his philosophy is that investing in the town is what made the town great, and that town officials should continue to do so.

"Investment is what made this town what it is today ... we are investing in the future of Madison. We want to build a town that people want to come live in," Bulyk said. "No one ever saved their way into greatness."

Amy Weber Johnson, a fourth generation Madison resident who is raising two fifth generation Madison children, spoke in favor of the school budget and of the improvements planned to Strong Field. "You can't grow grass on sand," she said, referring to the field's current state of disrepair.

Discussion follows the hearing

Following the meeting, the Board of Finance met, and discussed all of the questions brought up by town residents, including fuel costs, the education budget and other topics. They noted that the town's fuel costs are dictated in part by long term contracts that seem like a great idea when fuel prices are rising, but don't always give the town the benefit of short term price decreases.

The finance board also had another heated discussion about whether the town's funding to the library should be increased, echoing an argument that occurred during one of their budget workshops. Board members decided not to make any cuts to the library budget or any other part of the budget following their discussion.

Tung did say that the finance board would have to continue to take a hard look at the Board of Education budget, particularly next year as enrollments are expected to decline.

"Bring us more flat lines"

She also encouraged the Board of Selectmen, which goes through the budget before the Board of Finance, to present the finance board with more flat accounts next year, or accounts that are not increased at all.

"Bring us more flat lines next year," Tung said. "I want them flat."

The finance board then voted unanimously to send voters the budget unchanged to vote on during the referendum.

Scott Gyllensten April 24, 2012 at 07:18 PM
While I fully understand the tough economic times and the impact that this has had on many Madison families, I believe that it is important that Board of Selectmen, the Board of Education, the Board of Finance and ultimately the residents of Madison approach the town budget in a thoughtful manner balancing investment in infrastructure and services to the community with the need for fiscal restraint. I respectfully disagree with the Chairs’ call for “more flat accounts next year”. What I would like to see is line items that are well thought out, that present options that the BOS, BOF and residents of Madison can evaluate. Since the town is not impervious to the effects of inflation, a true flat budget would result in cuts to either infrastructure or services. The only other way to present a flat budget is to continue to play the game of underfunding the town’s reserve accounts, which only pushes tax increases to future years resulting in steeper tax increases to cover immediate infrastructure needs. I was impressed with the thoughtful budgets presented by the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen and I hope the town supports these budgets at the May 15th Budget Referendum. Scott Gyllensten, Board of Finance
Janet April 24, 2012 at 10:26 PM
With a 30% decline in school enrollment over the past few years and no reversal in sight, I would look for a decrease in the education budget next year, along with a five year plan on closing one more school. Let's be thinking in advance on this subject so the plan can minimize any impact on the quality of education. Necessary administrative cuts and consolidation do not have to amount to a lower quality of education if done correctly.
Pem McNerney (Editor) April 24, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Well said and a sentiment that was echoed by some at the meeting last night.

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