2018 Raymond Budget Committee Meetings


Committee Hears of Legislature’s Default Budget Changes
By Leslie O’Donnell   8-20-18

State Rep. Carolyn Matthews, R-Raymond visited the Raymond Budget Committee on Aug. 14 to explain legislative changes made this year to the way a default budget must be computed.

Matthews, who serves on the Municipal and County Government Committee in the legislature and chaired the subcommittee on default budget bills, presented the changes in the law.

Matthews said that since 2004, when the default budget concept was defined by statute, 28 bills have been proposed to deal with it. Those bills, and two committees created to work on them, went nowhere, she said, adding that this year her committee looked at every piece of legislation proposed regarding default budgets.

“Even though we try to make everything clear to the voters, when they go to the polls, they look at the bottom line of the proposed budget and the bottom line of the default budget, and when they see the default is higher, they do not understand why, since it’s supposed to be a status quo budget. Given this situation, it was obvious the first step for the legislature was to increase transparency,” she said.

The committee also found problems with how to address contracts and staffing. “Our intent was to address transparency, voter education, and clarification of contracts and staffing,” she said.  She added that even though governing bodies have the sole authority to set the bottom line, they are empowered by statute to change that bottom line up until the ballots are to be printed if relevant new information comes forward.

“The default budget is supposed to be the budget that gets us through if the proposed budget fails, and maintains the status quo,” she explained.

Concerning transparency, the new legislation mandates that at the first budget hearing, the default budget has to be disclosed and presented for questions. Line items have to be available to voters as well.

“The point is that we provide enough accessible information that will minimize the number of voters who do not understand what is going on. Voters think mischief has taken place if the default is higher, so the governing bodies need to explain why that happens. That’s an important piece of public education.”

Matthews emphasized that a default budget bottom line can legitimately be higher than the previous year’s operating budget and higher than the current year’s proposed operating budget.

The new definition of a default budget is: “the amount of the same appropriations as contained in the operating budget authorized for the previous year, reduced and increased, as the case may be, by debt service, contracts, and other obligations previously incurred or mandated by law, and reduced by one-time expenditures contained in the operating budget and by salaries and benefits of positions that have been eliminated in the proposed budget.”

The salary statement is new this year.

If a job position is eliminated in the proposed budget, it cannot be included in the default budget. That, however, does not apply to positions being recruited or redefined. For example, if a School District is cutting an elementary school teacher but moving that position to the middle school, it is not considered an eliminated position.

A second change is in contracts, which now have to be “previously approved, in the amount so approved, by the legislative body in either the operating budget for the previous year or in a separate warrant article for a previous year.”

The final change highlighted requires the default budget to not only be “disclosed” at the first budget hearing, but “presented for questions and discussion.” That means “line item details for reductions and increases must be available for inspection by voters, and reductions and increases must identify the specific items that constitute a change by account code, and the reasons for the change.”

Committee member Rani Merryman said, “morals and scruples are the only things that make them return what (funding) is unused to the taxpayer,” but Matthews cautioned that Merryman was talking about the operating budget, while the changes discussed apply to the default budget.

“The proposed budget is the governing body’s best guess,” Matthews said. “My experience is the governing bodies are extraordinarily good at answering why they are doing what they do.”

In other business:

• The committee accepted the resignation of vice chair Richard Rousseau, who will be attending law school. Chair Carol Watjus said the Committee had given her authority to post open positions, and she had consulted with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office when she received Rousseau’s written resignation, and was told the best option was to email Committee members. “I didn’t act on my own, I did what the Secretary of State asked me to do,” she said, although she said her write-up for the open position was changed and posted incorrectly.

• The Committee interviewed and appointed Sharon Stolts, a new resident from out of state, to fill the vacancy. Selectman Wayne Welch swore her into office at the meeting. The committee then voted to elect Joshua Mann as vice chair.

• The Committee voted to have the School Board meet with the Budget Committee on Oct. 9 to present its final year-end figures.

• Watjus said she did not want department heads to have to make multiple presentations, and Mann said he did not want to have to tell residents to go back and watch previous meetings. Mann, who has previously served on the Committee, noted that the Committee did not ask Town department heads to come to Budget meetings; the Town Manager at the time directed them to attend.

• Watjus asked Mann to help set dates for budget meetings and snow dates. With Deliberative Sessions set for Feb. 2 and Feb. 9, he worked backward to establish possible meeting dates. Budgets must be delivered to the Budget Committee by Nov. 20, with the School District presenting its budget on Nov. 27 and the Town on Nov. 29. Watjus will prepare a budget calendar from the dates discussed.

 


Committee Forwards Reduced Town, School Budgets to Warrant
By Penny Williams     1-27-18

The Raymond Budget Committee wrapped up its hearings on Town and School budgets early, making its Jan. 18 meeting its final session and arriving at reduced budgets that will be presented at Deliberative Sessions.

Taking the Town budget first, the committee initially suggested cutting the Board of Selectmen's budget of $7,570,979 by $117,211 to $7,453,768. Town Manager Craig Wheeler objected to the reduced amount.

Wheeler discussed the Unassigned Fund Balance and noted that it had a negative $501,101 balance in 2012. He said that balance was raised to a positive $2,285,997 in 2016 and indicated this was a function of an increase in anticipated revenues, money that goes into that fund automatically and unspent appropriations.

He said this money is not surplus according to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA), and to call it surplus would be a misnomer.

Wheeler said the proposed figure from the Budget Committee would make it harder for the Town to put the money needed into the Unassigned Fund to reach the DRA recommended 17 percent fund balance amount, and noted the Town is at 14 percent at present.

Wheeler said he does not support the proposed cuts, particularly for the fund balance, which can be used in an emergency and is a major savings account and safety net for the Town. He added that in the future, it could be used to reduce taxes. The fund balance also determines the credit-worthiness of Town. He said the fund needs to reach $3 million to $3.5 million.

The budget committee discussed the proposed cuts and member Richard Rousseau said the $117,211 figure was too much. He suggested an alternate amount of just over $60,000, which would reduce the bottom line to $7,510,131.

After a discussion of this amount, Wheeler said he would have to speak to the selectmen but he could live with that budget.

The committee also approved the Water Department operating budget, bringing the total budget to $8,292,209. The committee made a motion to approve it, and everyone except Chair Josh Mann voted in favor. The Default Budget amount will be $8.428,175.

Turning to the School District Operating Budget, Mann suggested a bottom-line figure of $24,052,360, which is $86,280 below the District’s administration-proposed budget to the school board.

Superintendent Tina McCoy discussed what the proposed cuts would impact, saying a proposed cut to the salary pool should be applied to the superintendent instead. She also noted that new software had been carefully chosen and a proposed cut would have a negative impact.

Discussion ensued about whether the budget cut would be to the bottom line or to specific function code lines, and heard that a revenue loss of almost $300,000 represents a 30 percent increase in the budget. The cut is made to the bottom line.

The committee said they were concerned about cutting the budget, but at the same time they had heard residents asking that cuts be made.

Committee member Joe Saulnier, who is also a School Board member, suggested reducing the budget by, among other things, cutting the Long Distance Learning teacher at $96,068 and the Wage Pool, at $3,000, for a total of $161,068. That would reduce the budget to $24,283,331.

Rousseau offered an alternate reduction amounting to $94,796 to cut the budget to $24,349,603. The committee discussed both suggested reductions and Rousseau made a motion to approve his, but it died for lack of a second.

The committee then looked at Saulnier's suggested reduction of $161,068, which would create a bottom line of $24,283,331. The committee approved that figure for the School District Operating Budget by a 5-1 vote, with Mann opposed. The Default Budget will be $24,425,410.

The Committee then voted on whether to recommend the Town and School Warrant Articles.

Mann voted against recommending Article 2, the School District operating budget; Article 3, the Collective Bargaining agreement with the Raymond Education Association (teachers’ union); and Article 6, to raise and appropriate up to $50,000 to place in the existing Equipment, Facilities Maintenance, and Replacement Capital Reserve Fund; all others voted to recommend those articles. The committee voted unanimously to recommend Article 5, to raise and appropriate $235,400 to place in Capital Reserve funds to implement the District’s Capital Improvement Program.

On the Town side the Budget Committee voted to recommend unanimously most of the articles; one member voted against Article 12, Social Services; two voted against Article 13, Mosquito Spraying; and one member voted against recommending Article 25, a citizen’s petition to pay for a firefighter.

The Budget Committee noted it had received several emails but voted not to read them into the public record because the writers were not present to discuss them.

The Budget Committee also voted to accept the resignation of David Wilson, whose term ends in March, and not to replace him until the Town Meeting vote. Wilson did not attend the Jan. 18 meeting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Develop an attitude of Gratitude !!
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

~ Melody Beattie ~