Southborough – As town officials attempt to balance the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget, one thing is certain: they all agree there will be some pain as they attempt to do so. The Board of Selectmen is proposing not only a 2 percent tax hike but also a $2 million cut to the requested school budget.
The board, reduced to two members since the abrupt departure of former Chair Bonnie Phaneuf two weeks ago, has been working to try to find a way to address those shortfalls, new Chair Bill Boland said at the selectmen's meeting Feb. 23.
In previous years, the schools have traditionally accounted for 66.8 percent of the budget, he said. After assessing the FY 2012 budget needs submitted by the different town departments, he and fellow selectman John Rooney proposed allocating 68 percent of the budget (approximately $20.3 million) to the schools and the remainder (approximately $9 million) to the town. To do so, they recommended raising taxes by 2 percent. In spite of this hike, the schools would still fall short, however, by about $2 million of what was requested and the town would be short by $10,000.
Although there is currently $1.175 million in the town's overlay account (after a recent telecommunications lawsuit was resolved) the board was not in favor of using any of those funds to put toward the budget shortfall, Boland said.
“We's look for that not to be funded back to the schools, but to reduce the tax rate,” Rooney said.
“Obviously for years we'se known a fiscal meltdown is on the way,” he added. “The wolf is here; the wolf is real. We need to live within our means.”
“I think that you do a great job and try to come in with the best budget,” Boland told Dr. Charles Gobron, the superintendent of the Northborough-Southborough Regional School District, “but I know that praise doesn's mean much when you are facing a $2 million cut.”
John Butler, a member of the town's Advisory Financial Committee (AFC), said the town and schools have big problems.
“Both sides are seriously too high,” he said. “Both sides are sinners. We have a lot of work to do.”
Butler noted that each year the separate elected groups had their own projected budgets. Those figures, he said, should be printed in the town's overall budget that would then be distributed at Town Meeting. Then, the voters could decide if they wanted to commit extra funds to a particular group, such as the schools, even if it meant higher taxes.
The selectmen and AFC will both be doing additional work on the budget as they move close to annual Town Meeting, which will be held Monday, April 11.
After the meeting, Gobron acknowledged the difficulty the district has ahead of them but said, “The schools have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with the town of Southborough during the many years I have been associated with the schools. Right now, the town of Southborough is facing some serious fiscal constraints, but I am confident that we will all work together to craft a budget at Town Meeting that will meet both the needs of our students and the needs of the town.
The public hearing for the K-8 budget will take place Wednesday, March 9 at 6:30 p.m. at Trottier Middle School in Southborough. The public hearing for the Algonquin (9-12) budget will be held Wednesday, March 16 at 7 p.m. at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough.