Shrewsbury Town Manager decries unfunded mandates as ‘cracks’ show in services
By John Swinconeck, Contributing Writer
Morgado and the Board of Selectmen railed against the financial burden placed on Massachusetts municipalities by state and federal governments during the board’s Dec. 16 meeting. It’s the same complaint the board has had for 16 years, town officials said.
“Any revenue that comes to the community can’t get chewed up by federal and state regulations,” Morgado said. “Every good idea the federal and state government has dries up our cost of doing business.”
“We’ve reduced staff, substantially, in some cases,” said Selectmen Chair Henry Fitzgerald. “We can’t cope, or keep up with, whatever new laws or mandates.”
The town’s financial stability is fragile, Morgado said, having weathered a recent recession and the 2008 financial crisis. Shrewsbury must now “weather the recovery,” he added.
Many residents have been frustrated with diminished services, according to Morgado. For example, there were complaints during a recent snowstorm that plows were late in clearing some roads, while the school district has become burdened by large classroom sizes.
“Under-resourcing has become very apparent,” Morgado said. “We’re seeing pressure on our staff, and cracks starting to appear across the board.”
Morgado’s comments echoed those made Dec. 10 by members of Shrewsbury’s 2013 Fiscal Study Committee, which warned that town and school services would be cut unless they become better funded.
With the exception of the lighting department, every one of Shrewsbury’s departments is under-resourced, said Morgado. In the meantime, town infrastructure and buildings, such as schools and sewer lines and pumping stations, will need repairs or upgrades.
Money could be saved by regionalizing some services, but there has been little interest in neighboring communities in regionalizing essential services such as police, fire, public safety dispatch, and public works, according to Selectman Jim Kane.
There was almost no mention of proposing a Proposition 2-1/2 override in order to increase tax revenue. Shrewsbury residents pay fewer property taxes than residents in most other nearby towns, and the average residential tax bill was $524 below the state average, according to Morgado.
“I will continue to look at other areas where we can take out costs,” Morgado said. “It can’t be strictly on the revenue side. … The public has to understand and appreciate and accept that we’re doing everything we possibly can to control costs, but how well we do moving forward depends on how well we take costs out of the system.”
Morgado will meet with selectmen again next month to continue the financial discussion, which he said he will use as guidance before filing a budget recommendation at the end of January.
The biggest financial issue facing Shrewsbury will be whether the legislature passes retiree healthcare benefits reform. In the next decade, paying for so-called Other Post-Employment Benefits could cost the town almost $70 million.
“A fix is obtainable,” Morgado said, however there needs to be a “political will” in order to make that happen. “Every year that goes by that nothing gets done, the problem gets worse.
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