Shrewsbury selectmen review budget concerns
Shrewsbury – Staffing town departments, the needs of the school and increasing state mandates were just some of the issues discussed by the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen during a financial workshop held during its Nov. 27 meeting. The workshop is an exercise the board undertakes as part of its preparation for the spring Annual Town Meeting.
Working from a summary prepared by Town Manager Daniel Morgado, the selectmen were presented with a budget overview and specific issues for consideration. These included ranking services and programs by highest to lowest priority (including library certification); police and fire department personnel staffing increases; staffing for municipal departments; how school needs will be met; how the board feels town fees should be structured; and desired changes to the budget development process. Regarding police and fire staffing, Morgado suggested an increase of 4 people to the police department and 1.2 people to the fire department (the .2 being an increase from .8 man weeks to a full-time clerical worker).
The board agreed that overall the town is in good shape regarding taxes, as it is 12th lowest out of 46 Massachusetts towns and cities with an average estimated residential tax bill of $4,139 for fiscal year (FY) 2012. That is an increase of $184 over FY 2011.
Morgado summarized his assessment of Shrewsbury’s financial condition. Strengths he listed include a low tax/high community service ratio; low debt obligation and high access to debt markets; mostly positive labor relations; and a modest growth in revenues. Weaknesses include an ever growing and uncertain atmosphere regarding state aid and unfunded state and federal mandates and the still uncertain financial future. While he emphasized that the town has a continuing good reputation as a place to live and in which to run a business, the continuing uncertainty about mandates and the growing unfunded liabilities from pensions, healthcare, and other liabilities for town workers mitigates the positive.
The board discussed the need for more town workers against this backdrop. An example they discussed involved the town’s four plumbing inspectors. While that number has stayed constant for some time, their work load continues to increase at 25 percent a year.
While town fees have increased, these are negated by the increased costs associated with providing the services.
Another example noted was the state has mandated increased spending on veterans’ services but the town is already meeting all local veterans’ needs.
Morgado stated that the town is still several weeks away from releasing the latest pension and healthcare estimates for FY 2014. It is estimated that the cost of pensions and healthcare will increase by three to seven percent; revenues are expected to increase only four to five percent.
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