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Town Meeting may be postponed

By Tom Gorman

Friday, May 4, 2007

Because of a looming $2.3 million budget shortfall, officials are considering postponing the May 15 annual Town Meeting.

Town Administrator Michael Yunits said that a meeting was to be held Thursday night after the Sun went to press to discuss putting off the Town Meeting until possible revenue sources could be studied to cover the fiscal year 2008 budget deficit. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Yunits explained that all department budgets are in and requests are about $3.4 million more than this year.

Funding is coming up short to cover the additional proposals.

“We have a $2.3 million problem,” he said.

According to Yunits, the finance committee will be looking at level funding the budgets and then seeing what requests can be added.

He noted that there are some costs the town has no control over, including insurance, retirements, and the Norfolk County Pension Fund.

“These have to be funded,” Yunits said.

After all the mandated costs have been funded, Yunits said that the finance committee would then see what monies are left to cover requests.

The school department’s $1.9 million budget increase is among one of the largest proposals.

The school committee recently endorsed the $12.4 million spending plan for next year, which represents an 18.7 percent hike over this year.

Superintendent of Schools Susan Martin explained that the increase is necessary in order to cover mandates by several state education agencies, as well as address a number of issues cited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges during its re-accreditation review of Holbrook Junior/Senior High School.

The junior/senior high school’s accreditation has been placed on probation status until the commission’s recommendations are carried out.

“Due to the fact that the school district had to follow the mandates and accountability systems, the budget submitted was an increase over last year’s,” Martin told the Sun last month.

In addition to the requested budget increase, another $680,870 would be needed to cover, a hike in transportation costs.

The school department’s proposal calls for hiring additional staff, including a Grade 6 teacher, a special education preschool teacher, two special education paraprofessionals, a reading teacher for the Kennedy and South Schools, and a speech/language therapist.

School officials are also seeking department heads for the junior/senior high school, fulltime math and literacy coaches, hall monitors, a school resource officer, a fulltime director of curriculum, a technical support specialist, and a fulltime out of district coordinator.

Martin had said the mandates and an expected spike in enrollment resulted in the proposed budget increase.

Other warrant articles include a zoning article submitted by the Mullins company of Braintree to allow a horse stable at its Old English Square development; a proposal to study the taking of the Mullins’ Old English Square property by eminent domain; allowing accessibility apartments; $40,000 in drainage improvements for Cedar Hill Road; and $10,000 for a street acceptance plan for Spring Lane.

Last month’s special Town meeting funded shortfalls in year’s police and fire department budgets and covered some unpaid bills.

Revenue from the sale of the Franklin School and Brookville fire station, along with some available monies from other accounts, bridged the gap.

Officials have noted that the town’s revenue stream has increased due to some new procedures and policies.

Last year, Town Meeting adopted a water shutoff policy that has been instrumental in forcing delinquent customers to pay up.

Meanwhile, liens and foreclosures have been stepped up on those properties with longstanding unpaid taxes.

Officials will be looking at these revenues and others as possible funding sources.

Yunits said that officials were to decide a date for the annual Town Meeting and provide time for officials to come up with a plan of action.

He added that the finance committee has its work cut out for it looking for funding sources and possible reductions in order to balance the budget.

“There is a lot of studying to be done,” Yunits said. They (the finance committee) will be looking at revenue sources and where cuts can be made.”

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