Letter: An inside look at the budget process
To the editor:
The Town Council has received many emails about the budget. Based on some of those and some comments made at the budget hearing last week, I believe there is some confusion about the budget process and the Financial Town Meeting (“FTM”). I hope this letter will help.
Several citizens urged the council to put the money back in the budget for the schools. While I personally support the School Committee’s proposed budget, members of the Town Council have exactly the same power as every other voter in town regarding the school budget: one vote at the FTM. In fact, our town charter prohibits the council from revising the school budget.
The budget process began late last year. Our town manager instructed department heads to evaluate costs for the previous 5 years along with the anticipated costs, including increases called for by union contracts, increased state fees, and so on. He worked with the finance director to estimate revenues for the next fiscal year and anticipated expenditures. A similar process was taking place with the superintendent and the director of finance and administration, considering enrollment, special education costs, and on and on.
In accordance with the town charter, the School Committee submitted its proposed budget to the Committee on Appropriations (“COA”) on “the first Monday in March”, and the town manager submitted his proposed budget to the Town Council and the COA on “the second Monday in March.” Then, “not later than sixty days” before the FTM, the council reviewed the manager’s proposed budget and voted to adopt it and so notified the COA.
The COA then began an exhaustive review with weekly meetings from March through May. They reviewed the proposals, an inches thick document, line by line and asked follow up questions to, and sought documents from, the town and school administrators.
Between meetings, the town and school administration worked hard to collect the data requested and answer questions. The COA then reviewed the requested data—including some from other towns—and asked more questions. “Why did we spend more than East Greenwich this past year on ….” “Why are you expecting less overtime at…?” The COA may also, as they did this year, ask the school (or the town) to go back and find more cuts. The School Committee did so and presented its final, revised proposed budget.
Eventually the COA voted on a recommended budget which is published in the newspaper (in summary form), is available on the town website and at the clerk’s office. Last week, the COA explained their reasoning at the budget hearing. At the FTM, the voters will have the opportunity to make changes, (assuming they have followed the rules and timelines of the town charter). Finally, the voters will determine the budget by a simple majority of those attending.
We anticipate a very large turnout at the FTM this year and will use the high school gymnasium with the auditorium for overflow. At the recent Special FTM in March, we had two voting machines – we will have six next week.
One last point. The passion and the emotion in the letters and comments at the budget hearing show the importance of these issues. I’ve been impressed with the level of civility in the discussion. We’ve shown that we can disagree with the COA without questioning their motives or impugning their integrity. Most people have been very respectful and civil, unfortunately a few have not. We should all remember that these people aren’t paid, and that they have given generously of their time and their talent.
Mr. Carroll is Barrington Town Council president.