August 10, 2015 Strategic Budget Committee

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August 10, 2015 Strategic Budget Committee

Postby Mary Wright » Mon Sep 07, 2015 1:00 pm

STRATEGIC BUDGET COMMITTEE MEETING
MONDAY, AUGUST 10, 2015

A meeting of the Strategic Budget Committee was held on Monday, August 10, 2015 in the Municipal Center. Ms. Brouillette called the meeting to order at 5:40 PM.

ATTENDANCE
PRESENT: Paula Brouillette (Chair), Dave Cortese (Vice Chair), Pamela Holmes
NON-VOTING: Michael Guzinski (Town Administrator), Cortney Keegan (School Business Manager), Jeanne Lovett (Finance Director), Norm Yvon (School Superintendent), Julie Moulder (School Committee)
ABSENT: Mike Hughes (Excused), Melissa Morrison (Excused), Scott Yacino (Alternate-Excused)
FINANCE COMMITTEE: Brett Argall, Carol Gogolinski, Michael Hutnak

1. Meet with Rep. Joe McKenna to discuss Local Aid
Ms. Brouillette explained the history and charge of the Strategic Budget Committee. The topics the Committee wishes to discuss with Rep. McKenna at this meeting are: Chapter 70 State Aid to Education, UGGA (Unrestricted General Government Aid), Pilot Funds for the State Forest, and Economic Development.
Rep. McKenna listed some of Gov. Baker’s initiatives: releasing an additional $100 million in Chapter 90 funding, introducing $30-$40 million for pothole repairs, providing a 50% increase in funding for the MassWorks Grant program and charging Lt. Gov. Karen Polito to institute the Community Compact. Some 9C cuts may be restored.
Rep. McKenna stated that the property by Rte. 146 is a perfect candidate for the next cycle of MassWorks Grant money. He will make this one of his top priorities to advocate to the State to move forward with.
He stated that he has met with Congressman McGovern, and he is in agreement that the equation for the Pilot program is broken. The State does not view the Douglas State Forest as prime economic development land, therefore the Town is reimbursed at a lower rate. They are going to look at how the land is valued. He feels a deep exploration of DOR’s formula is needed.
The Chapter 70 preliminary report has come out. It only included Human Resources and Special Education. There are a dozen other areas the study committee wants to do through to November 1, 2015. They recommended correcting the percentages by which costs grow for retirement and special education. Other proposed topics included technology, English Language Learning (ELL) and mental health services.
Rep. McKenna recommended that towns wean back their dependence on kindergarten grants because he does not know their fate.
A discussion was held regarding refiguring the Chapter 70 formula. Rep. McKenna feels the first step is to make the formula structurally sound. He said the State needs to trim budgets to support towns and schools. Mr. Yvon spoke about reworking the formula so that it is fair, not necessarily equitable.
Ms. Holmes stated her concerns over the cost of the vocational school. The cost to educate those students is double what Douglas pays. For every dollar that goes to the vocational school, the local school loses $0.70. The vocational school does not charge for extracurricular activities, however Douglas public schools must charge families an activities fee. Rep. McKenna said that concerns about how students are admitted, the cost of tuition and cost of transportation for vocational schools has been heard frequently and noted in the preliminary report. He feels that changes need to be made at the State to create a level playing field. Ms. Holmes asked him to transmit the message from Douglas that they feel the formula and the 50-year charter agreement need to be looked at.
Also, the State approves post-education nursing students to be included in the towns’ assessments. Ms. Holmes stated that there is a large amount of State money, as well as money from individual towns and individual students going to the LPN program. A lengthy discussion was held. The Committee feels strongly that the State legislation loophole that allows post-secondary students to be counted towards individual towns’ assessments for transportation etc. for vocational schools needs to be closed. Ms. Keegan will send a copy of the statute to Rep. McKenna. He will write a letter to the DESE and the Foundation Review Committee expressing Douglas’ grave concerns on this topic. He feels a “money follows the student” program may correct many inequities.
Ms. Lovett and Ms. Keegan expressed their desire to have State budget numbers by February.
Mr. McKenna explained the Community Compact. The Lt. Governor is coordinating a program where each community looks at their policies across the board and then sits down with the administration to look at what is working well and what is not working well. The administration would pass along recommendations on policies that have worked well in other towns. Invitations to participate will be extended in the fall. Ms. Brouillette stated that the education budget is 80% of Douglas’ budget. Streamlining municipal budgets will not help Douglas as much as helping the education budget. Mr. McKenna stated that he feels education would be part of that process.
The pros and cons of regionalizing services, especially emergency dispatch, were discussed. State revenues vs. expenses and State revenue projections were discussed.
Mr. McKenna stated that the conversations he is having here today in Douglas are the same conversations he has been hearing in Webster, Sutton, and Oxford.
Carol Gogolinski stressed to Rep. McKenna to find out how the State is determining the underlying value of the state land. She feels it may be an issue with how the land is zoned. She feels that Douglas is not getting their fair share when compared to other communities. Rep. McKenna agreed and stated that he has had this conversation with Sen. Fattman and other representatives. There seems to be a problem with the valuation of the land in Douglas resulting in an underfunding. He is exploring this issue.
Mr. Guzinski explained how the State land is assessed. Douglas is not due for a reassessment for approximately 1.5 years, however Douglas is in the process of discussing filing an appeal. Ms. Holmes thinks that the last full review was in 1988.
Rep. McKenna left the meeting.
The Committee next began talking about the 5-year projection for Douglas. Ms. Lovett stated that the Committee projected a 1% increase for State Aid.

2. Minutes: June 23, 2015
Mr. Cortese made a motion to approve the June 23, 2015 meeting minutes of the Strategic Budget Committee as amended, with the attachments as recommended by Ms. Holmes. Ms. Holmes seconded the motion. Vote: Unanimous.

3. Old/New Business/Open Session
Old Business: Regarding sharing the information gathered from this Committee with other departments and with the public, Ms. Holmes stated that there should be a focus on telling Douglas’ story: revenues have increased and taxes have not been able to keep up with the need. Ms. Brouillette stated that the story should be the start of the presentation, then proceed with where Douglas goes from here. They should ask the residents what kind of community they want going forward. Ms. Brouillette would like to present a timeline and a five-year projection.
It was decided to have a meeting Tuesday, September 1, 2015 at 7:00 PM. Mr. Guzinski will send out notices to the following boards/committees to develop a schedule to meet with the Strategic Budget Committee: 1. Sept. 15 or 29: School Committee, PTO, school groups, Douglas’ BVT Regional School Committee representative and general public, and 2. October 20, 2015: Finance Committee, Capital Committee, Board of Selectmen, Rep. McKenna, Sen. Fattman, Library Trustees and department heads.
Mr. Guzinski recommended having the meeting with department heads etc. first before having the meeting with the general public. It was undecided when to meet with seniors.
New Business: Mr. Guzinski will send a thank you note to Rep. McKenna and remind him of the points that were discussed at today’s meeting.

4. Adjournment
Ms. Holmes made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 7:39 PM. Mr. Cortese seconded the motion. Vote: Unanimous.

Respectfully submitted,

Mary Wright
Recording Secretary
Mary Wright
 
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