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TUESDAY'S TOWN MEETING
Greetings to the voting residents of Aquinnah:
Next Tuesday’s Town Meeting will have on the warrant an article requesting a one hundred seventy five thousand dollar override to meet the general operating expenses of municipal government in fiscal year 2013. It has been three years since the last override was needed to ensure town government carry out its duties. There are four main reasons why the budget is lurching upward:
1. There is a substantial reduction in available free cash this year compared to last year to offset budget increases;
2. There is a substantial increase in regional assessments for the Town;
3. There are upward town personnel related fixed costs and;
4. There is a need to provide necessary compensation and job opportunities for the employees who work for the Town of Aquinnah.
The free cash certification given by the Department of Revenue for 2012 is $40,589. The previous year it was $170,482. A year ago we were able to put a lot of the free cash away in our stabilization fund as well as pay for a majority of the articles that was on the 2011 warrant; the biggest of those was $50,000 for the OPEB Fund.
The (O)ther (P)ost (E)mployee (B)enefit Fund is a savings account set up by every town to deal with the gap in health benefits that occurs for those retirees the town has now and those who will retire in the future who are entitled to postemployment health care. The Town is obligated to put money aside every year and although $50K is not what the most recent actuarial study says the Town should provide (more like 200K each year), it is what Aquinnah has to now build into its budget.
Regional assessments for education and ambulance service as well as our expense for legal counsel with Ron Rappaport’s Office are all rising significantly in the coming fiscal year. The elementary school’s budget is $176,254 more in FY ‘13. Fortunately the number of Aquinnah students at the high school has decreased so the Town will save $76,000 in that area of education. Tri-Town Ambulance’s need to have more trainers and certified personnel increases their budget 7% to $172,218. The Finance Committee knows that every year there has never been enough of an appropriation for legal services and has needed to draw money from the Finance Committee’s Reserve Fund. It was decided to increase the legal fees line item to properly reflect how much we do spend for Town Counsel’s support.
The Town Government’s fixed costs are somewhat enigmatic of the fluctuations that can occur from year to year. Thanks to health care reform, employee health insurance is down almost 8%. But overall raised costs for retirement and Medicare/Social Security bring about an increase for the line item of $37,061.
The request to increase the operating general budget for the Town and its employees comes from an understanding that certain expenses, such as telephone, data processing and general insurance are scheduled to rise. More obvious is the raise in salaries for the employees who have earned a step increase based on their evaluated performance and a (C)ost (O)f (L)iving (A)djustment the Selectmen/Finance Advisory Committee reasoned should be 3%. This decision was based on the unavailability of a pay adjustment for the last five years and in congruence with every other island town’s desire to have a COLA for their employees. The increase in the Town Administrator’s wage is a request from Adam Wilson to have his salary fall in line with the classification study done several years ago and the establishment of the compensation plan approved by town residents to appropriately pay those individuals qualified to perform in the Town’s various professional positions. The increase in the Town Accountant’s wage is a request from Margie Spitz to have more hours in order to successfully do her job. Our public safety department’s budgets, especially the Fire Department, continue to rise due to equipment costs, mandated training hours and a much needed increase in pay for the Fire Chief position.
Adam has also recommended the budgeted job of Administrative Assistant to the Planning Board be expanded to provide additional clerical help for several community review boards. The part time, 15 hour a week position would be empowered to execute the state requirements of public notification for review boards such as planning, conservation and zoning and lend administrative support to committees such as personnel, finance and the Town Selectmen.
A lot of time and effort has gone into the preparation of the budget with careful thought and consideration of how best to spend the taxpayer’s money. The overall $298,622 increase reflects current economic times not only for Aquinnah but many towns in the Commonwealth. It is the hope that the voting residents will support the municipality and its continued efforts in generating capable accomplishments for the Town of Aquinnah.
Chairman BOS/Finance Advisory Committee.