By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Northborough – Northborough’s legislative delegation made their annual visit to the Board of Selectmen March 12 to discuss the town’s legislative priorities. Present were State Sen. Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester), State Rep. Harold P. Naughton (D-Clinton) and State Rep. Danielle W. Gregoire (D-Marlborough).
“We try to focus on two or three things that are critically important to the town of Northborough and then a few other things legislatively that we’d like you to look for,” remarked Town Administrator John Coderre as he opened the discussion.
Coderre listed the top three priorities for FY 2019 which are similar to last year: Chapter 90 funding for roads, an increase in Circuit Breaker funding and ensuring sustainable Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) costs through reform at the state level.
“We need $1.1 million to maintain our roads where they are right now which is comprised of $500,000 of Chapter 90 from the state, $300,000 that is from the DPW budget and another $300,000 that we are using from our capital budget to get to that number,” explained Coderre. His hope, he added, is that the governor and State Legislature fully fund Chapter 90 at $300 million, at least for FY 2019.
The Circuit Breaker Program reimburses local school districts for a portion of their costs for educating students with severe disabilities. Ideally, the town should be reimbursed at 100 percent, but realistically they are only reimbursed at 65 percent.
“Reimbursement means we’ve already spent this money and that the reimbursement of that amount [spent] is very much a part of our budgeting process. When that percentage isn’t realized we have to cut elsewhere and given that the special education budget supports mandates that we have little control over, that means we have to look at other places to trim,” stated School Superintendent Christine Johnson, who also shared concerns over special education transportation costs and pitting special education against regular education for funding.
Coderre explained the need for OPEB reform to the benefit structure to make it more sustainable for all stakeholders. OPEB refers primarily to non-pension benefit such as health care to retirees. Northborough cannot fund its way out of this $39.1 million liability.
“Make it a graduated benefit based on age and years of service,” suggested Coderre, similar to pensions. Northborough has set up a trust fund and has contributed $500,000 annually.
“None of the [concerns] are new …do you feel that it is worth it for us to pursue these things every year?” inquired Selectman Leslie Rutan.
“I think what you are going to hear from us this evening is that we are going into yet another, what we call, an austerity budget, especially given the uncertainty at the federal level,” Gregoire noted.
“Our problem is just money. What it comes down to is revenue,” stated Chandler.
She then said that she knew how important roads are and that she would like to fully fund the circuit breaker and suggested seeking funds through Airbnb regulation and taxation and revisiting the “Millionaires Tax.”
“Anything that you folks can do as far as the predictability in letting us know as early as possible …if we can just get a better idea of where we are going to be so that we are not guessing,” said Selectman Jeff Amberson regarding budget planning.