The Board of Selectmen will hold a public hearing on the preliminary Town and Board of Education budgets as recommended by the Board of Finance on Monday, April 23, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Walter C. Polson Middle School on Green Hill Road.
At that meeting, the Board of Finance will present a budget that includes a 3.8 percent increase in the town budget to $21,217,817 for 2012-2013, and a .76 percent increase in the school budget to $50,658,826. The Board of Finance made its proposal after a series of budget workshops.
The combined town and school budgets would increase 1.63 percent, or $1,155,605 to $71,876,644 under the Board of Finance recommended budget.
Total increase is 1.63 percent, down from 2.17 percent
The Board of Finance received a proposed budget from the Board of Selectmen earlier this year of a combined requested budget that represented a 2.17 increase of $1,532,605 over the 2011-2012 approved budget of $70,721,038.
At the budget hearing Monday, town residents are welcome to attend, ask questions, and voice their opinion.
"We can still change the budget on Monday or Tuesday," said Board of Finance Chairman Jennifer Tung. "We will make changes only if the public shows a strong support requesting changes at the hearing. That is why we have a hearing prior to referendum, to allow the property owners an opportunity to tell the Board where we should make changes, if any are desired."
Referendum scheduled for May 15
A referendum, where town residents can vote on the budget, is scheduled for May 15.
Changes made by the Board of Finance during recent budget hearings include trimming back a $10,000 increase approved by the selectmen for the Madison Youth & Family Services budget request. The Board of Finance also reduced by $15,000 an increase in a truck replacement account for Madison Hose Co. No. 1, leaving the increase in that account at $47,000 rather than $62,000; as a result of that reduction, the selectmen-approved $104,160 increase in the Fire, Ambulance, and Civil Prep account, was instead increased by $88,699.
No changes made to the Board of Education operation budget
Tung said that the finance board did not make any changes to the Board of Education's operational budget.
But the finance board did decide to cut $280,000 from the Board of Education's health insurance premium estimates, based on a review that the finance board did during one of the budget workshops.
Likewise, the Board of Finance was able to cut $70,000 from the town side of the budget for the same reason, Tung said. Because claims have been low, the town can afford to to make those changes, she said.
Madison Youth and Family Services request trimmed
The Board of Finance also decided to trim $10,000 to the Madison Youth and Family Services requested budget. The Board of Selectmen, during their deliberations earlier this year, added $10,000 to the MYFS budget for local relief to residents who are having trouble paying for utilities and for other emergencies.
Due in part to the mild winter, Tung said, MYFS did not have to spend as much as it anticipated this past year.
She said if the department finds next year that it needs more money for that purpose, it can come back to the town and ask for a special appropriation.
Madison Ambulance Association increase of $35,000 retained, but not increased further
The Board of Finance decided to retain a $35,000 increase to the Madison Ambulance Association requested budget, as recommended by the Board of Selectmen. The Madison Ambulance Association, a private non-profit organization that provides emergency ambulance service to the town, initially had asked the town for an additional $125,000, that would have allowed for an additional paramedic on the night shift.
The Ambulance Association currently has two ambulances available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., each staffed with a paramedic and an EMT. From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., the town currently one ambulance with two EMTs, and a paramedic in a fly car, who is deployed as needed. Madison Ambulance Association EMS Director Chris Bernier said the association ideally would like to have two ambulances, each with a paramedic and an EMT on from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The additional $35,000 will allow the association to staff an additional paramedic from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., he said, which is a step in the right direction.
From 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., only one paramedic on staff
"The Board of Directors and I realize that there is only so much money available for additional requests and many organizations are 'competing for that slice of the pie,' all to improve services for the Madison Community," Bernier said. "If the additional funding gets approved it will assist our organization to staff the paramedic for an additional four hours – until 11 p.m.
That means that from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., there would only be one paramedic on staff.
"If the one paramedic responds to a call for service, this would leave the town without paramedic coverage until that paramedic returned. If an additional call for service occurred the Madison community would then rely on our surrounding towns for mutual aid paramedic assistance," Bernier said. "The response time for a mutual aid paramedic could range from 15-30 minutes or even longer."
"I am always concerned regarding any delay to our patients"
Madison Ambulance is a 911-only service, Bernier noted.
"I cannot predict when 911 will be called requiring an ambulance or paramedic. I am always concerned regarding any delay to our patients." he said. "Our goal is twofold – to minimize calls that require mutual aid assistance and to provide adequate advanced life support services to the Madison community."
While the association does do some fundraising, Bernier said he did not anticipate doing fundraising to provide additional staffing, since it is an operational related expense. He said he has been investigating grants, but that, so far, this particular need does not qualify for those.
Tung said the Board of Finance had several people ask that the board retain the additional $35,000, as approved by the Board of Selectmen, but that the finance board did not have any request from the public to add more to that.
Library budget a point of controversy among finance board members
One point of controversy during the Board of Finance budget hearings related to the budget of the Scranton Library, Tung said, which also is a non-profit supported in large part by the town. Traditionally, about 85 percent of the library's budget is provided by the town, with the rest provided by donors and fundraising.
Tung said, given the difficult economic times and "competing priorities," that she thought the library budget should be held flat to the 2011-2012 approved library budget.
Scranton Memorial Library Board of Trustees President Edwin "Ted" Mallory, and Library Director Beth Crowley attended a Board of Finance meeting to discuss their request for a 2.85 increase in the library budget to $1,317,698 from $1,281,136, or an increase of more than $36,000.
Flat funding to library could mean reduced salaries, benefits, hours
Mallory said that if the town's funding to the library remained flat, that the library might have to freeze salaries, reduce benefits and reduce hours to make up the difference.
"Mr. Mallory pointed out that while the Library does have trust funds, that money is generally used for capital projects and un-budgeted emergencies, not making up for budget shortfalls," the preliminary minutes from that meeting say.
Tung responded that many town and Board of Education union contracts negotiated recently have zero salary increases for the first year. She also noted that keeping the library budget flat would still mean that the library would still have about 84 to 85 percent of its budget met by the town. Board of Finance Member Sandy McKissick agreed with Tung.
Finance board members Tung, McKissick vote against library increase
"McKissick suggested that increased expenses over last year could be paid from the Library trust funds rather than from the taxpayers, given the difficult economy and competing priorities for budget dollars. Mr. McKissick suggested that the Library consider the actions of the Board of Education who made tough decisions in order to bring forward a budget request with less than a 1% increase and to implement efficiencies and other measures so that their budget request next year is not an increase over the 2012-2013 budget," the preliminary minutes say.
Crowley, the library director, told the board that the library programs are not only widely used by people in town, but that usage is up, in large part due to the poor economy.
Board of Finance member Bennett Pudlin moved to accept the Board of Selectmen’s approved budget for the Library, with the increase. The motion was seconded by Board of Finance member Scott Gyllensten and passed with Lisa Favre, Gyllensten, James Matteson and Pudlin voting in favor of the motion. McKissick and Tung voted against the motion, according to the minutes.
Strong Field artificial turf project remains on LoCAP list
Tung said that $800,000 for the Strong Field artificial turf has been on the projected list of Long Term Capital Projects list since 2004, and remains on that list. Additional details about about the Strong Project have been provided by the town, in the PDFs posted with this article.
Supporters of the Strong Field Project are encouraging people to show up at the budget hearing Monday, and at the May referendum, to voice their support for the project.
"The Town of Madison Boards of Selectmen and Finance have approved a Long Range Capitol Improvement line item of $800,000 for the replacement of the grass to artificial turf in the 2012-13 budget," the Strong Field project said in a recent email to its supporters. "The Town has recognized the need for the renovation and has taken a major step in assisting the success of the Strong Center project. Also, they have approved $200,000 to be taken from the Harold Strong Endowment Fund to be used for the artificial turf replacement. This will all be contingent upon the passing of the budget referendum on May 15. It will be imperative that you vote for the Town and Education Budgets on May 15. We cannot let this major step by the Town slip by.WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- ATTEND THE APRIL 23 FINAL BUDGET HEARING AT POLSON AT 7.30. WE NEED MASSES OF PEOPLE TO SHOW OUR BOARDS THE SUPPORT FOR STRONG CENTER.
- VOTE "YES" ON THE MAY 15 REFERENDUM.
- CONSIDER A NAMING RIGHT GIFT: FIELD HOUSE; PLAZA BENCH; GOLD, SILVER OR BRONZE SPONSOR; ALUMNI WALL; PLAZA STONE.
For more information about the Strong Field project, you can go to WWW.STRONGCENTERSURFCLUB.ORG.