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Free cash helps Scituate meet $360K of unexpected costs

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  January 11, 2013 12:08 PM

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Despite $360,000 in unbudgeted costs for the current fiscal year, Scituate officials remain optimistic.

According to town officials, the town has to deal with several unanticipated costs, including approximately $100,000 in fire department overtime because of Hurricane Sandy, arson in Humarock, and other fires; and an estimated $15,000 for the upcoming US Senate primary and election.

The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary has also made security upgrades for Scituate Schools more urgent. Though the town expected to upgrade security over a three-year period, officials are now looking to spend $245,000 in accelerated school-security updates this year.

Although expensive, the town will be able to handle the costs with over $2 million in free cash from surpluses in fiscal 2012, which ended last June 30.

However, Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi said the unexpected costs will have an effect on future capital projects.

“Free cash will be used to fund them, but it will reduce free cash we’re typically using for pay-as-you-go under the capital plan,” she said to selectmen.

Those costs will be addressed during the Annual Town Meeting in April, where officials already expect 40 articles on the warrant.

A complicated budget for fiscal 2014, which starts July 1, is to be finalized at Town Meeting. Town officials are anticipating a reduction of 1 percent, or $170,000, in local aid from the state.

The budget for South Shore Vocational Tech is also up almost 5 percent, and the town is already planning for the expiration of many of the town’s union contracts.

Though just an estimate, officials have budgeted $101,000 for contract negotiations, which would be enough to fund a 1 percent increase for all five of the town’s unions.

“The town will be bargaining during the remainder of FY13 and into FY14. No determinations have been made. This figure is only for a frame of reference,” Vinchesi said in an email.

Veterans claims are also up significantly with a new, full-time Veterans Service Department, increasing the budget $183,893 in fiscal 2014 from this year.

Officials are also budgeting $282,000 more for the fire department’s personnel services line, due to an arbitration decision regarding EMT stipends.

“This is a huge increase as it applies to any overtime as well,” Vinchesi said. “We have also had three major fires and Hurricane Sandy and a Nor’easter. That means more personnel need to be brought in in addition to regular staff, and that increases costs too.”

Despite the challenges, the town is receiving money from the wind turbine, the town’s bond rating has been increased to AA+, and local revenues and new growth is expected to bring over $140,000 into the budget.

Coupled with $399,000 in savings from a renegotiated health insurance and unemployment policies, and the 2.5 percent raised through taxes annually, the town is financially steady, officials said.

“There are some considerable saving in some areas and in others considerable decreases. But the budget wasn’t at the point where we had to cut existing levels of services, but it was a challenge to decide what the priorities should be. We can’t just be needs,” Vinchesi told selectmen at this week's meeting.

Selectmen were pleased with the overall picture after the presentation, despite the anticipated challenges.

“Overall we’re in a positive situation,” said Selectman Tony Vegnani. “We have $2 million of free cash we’ve never had before…but the state is in this phase where they are reducing things now…our goal is to be conservative.”

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