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Long-range plan could include $5m override

Posted by Sarah Thomas  February 15, 2011 08:46 AM

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The Wellesley Board of Selectmen will offer a series of recommendations at Town Meeting that could include a $5 million tax override in fiscal year 2013 as part of the town's five-year financial plan.

At Monday night's meeting, town manager Hans Larsen offered the Proposition 2 1/2 override as part of a strategy that would shrink, but not eliminate, the projected budget deficits the town could face over the next five years.

"Without cuts to our spending and services, we will certainly need meaningful overrides," Larsen said. "Our spending requirements are overwhelming."

Larsen outlined those requirements in a presentation, which showed projected deficits ranging from $2.5 million in fiscal year 2012 to $8.4 million in fiscal 2016. The largest contributing factors, Larsen said, were the increasing costs of providing pensions and benefits to Wellesley's town employees and teachers.

"The biggest variable in our operating costs every year comes from collective bargaining agreements," Larsen said. "In this year's budget alone, step and lane increases in salaries will cost $1.1 million."

Larsen suggested freezing step and lane increases, which are based on education and experience, along with across-the-board wage increases to close this year's gap. He also suggested revenue-enhancing strategies like increasing parking meter rates and raising permit fees to tide the town over until the proposed override next year.

"If we passed a $5 million tax override in FY13, and pledged no further tax overrides through FY14, the value of that override would increase over time," Larsen said. "It would be worth more every year."

Even with the override, the financial models still predict budget gaps, ranging from $415,000 in fiscal year 2013 to over $3 million in 2016. Larsen said that additional measures would be needed to address those gaps.

"We will look at operational efficiencies, collective bargaining, potential changes in the state and federal pension and health insurance mandates, a larger reimbursement on the circuit breaker, and cutting services and staff," Larsen said.

Residents who attended the meeting had questions and comments on the proposed plan. Several insisted on the need to invest in the public schools.

"Twelve years ago, when my wife and I were living in Boston, we discovered we were expecting a child. We asked everyone we worked with where we should move, and the one answer we kept getting was Wellesley, because of the schools," said Rob Pizzella. "We need to preserve the quality of the schools, because that's why people stay here."

"I have two sons in the second grade, who are in classrooms with 26 kids," said Julia Fantasia. "We have accepted these larger class sizes, we've accepted the need to aggressively fund-raise to fund things like library books. But compromising our programs and teachers is going too far. We need to find ways to pay teachers more, not freeze their pay."

"We have to think about boosting our educational values," said Julianne Ivey. "If we want to increase our property values and tax revenue, we have to invest in our schools."

Selectman chair Katherine Babson said that the deliberations were far from over.

"The selectmen have a responsibility to bring a balanced budget," Babson said. "Clearly, FY13 will be a huge challenge."

The next step for the town-wide financial plan is to be presented at this week's advisory committee meeting.

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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