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Shortfall postpones Town Meeting

By Tom Gorman

Friday, May 11, 2007

Facing a $2.3 million budget shortfall, officials have postponed the annual Town Meeting until May 29 in order to get a better handle on Holbrook’s finances.

Town Administrator Michael Yunits told the Sun that the board of selectmen decided on May 3 to put off the Town Meeting originally scheduled for May 15 so the finance committee could have more time reviewing possible revenue sources to cover the fiscal year 2008 budget deficit. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Last week, Yunits said that department budget requests are about $3.4 million more than this year.

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

Last month’s special Town Meeting funded shortfalls in this 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 cm those properties with longstanding unpaid taxes.

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

One of the larger budgets is the school department’s proposed $12.4 million spending plan, which is $1.9 million over this year’s.

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

The school’s accreditation has been placed on probation status until the NEASC’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 die requested budget increase, another $680,870 would be needed to cover a hike in transportation costs.

Other warrant articles include an eminent domain petition that seeks Town Meeting’s approval to allow a study of the town taking the proposed Old English Square site and converting it into a municipal golf course.

One of the backers of the petition, assessor Robert Powalitis, explained that the proposal was prompted out of “frustration” that the project was stalled and the developer, The Muffins Company of Braintree, was changing the scope of the plans and challenging planning board conditions.

The proposal also calls for the town to enter into a lease agreement with the Joint Water Board to use its 22-acre parcel of abandoned wells and incorporate it into the golf course.

Powalitis also expressed displeasure with Mullins’s proposal to establish a horse stable on the property and build four homes on English Road next to the Old English site.

Mullins officials have said they are not changing their plans and are in the final stages of permit approvals and planning board hearings.

Muffins officials have submitted a zoning article to allow a horse stable at Old English Square.

Other articles include a recall article; allowing accessibility apartments; $40,000 in drainage improvements for Cedar Hill Road; and $10,000 for a street acceptance plan for Spring Lane.

Yunits explained that the recall article, submitted by petition, would establish a provision in the town charter to allow a recall of elected officials.

The town has no such bylaw now.

”Right now, (elected officials) can’t be voted out until their term is up,” Yunits said.

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