Published in the June 22, 2018 edition

MELROSE — The drumbeat in support of an override of the tax hike-limiting Proposition 2 1/2 will continue, according to Mayor Gail Infurna this week.

The mayor, who called for an override in early May, writes in a column this week that there simply is not enough money coming in to match what municipal services cost to provide.

Monday, the aldermen formerly passed a $79,399,946 operating budget for the year beginning July 1. That includes $27,596,824 for Melrose’s public schools, a 4.15 percent increase over what education leaders received for the current fiscal year.

Infurna writes:

“The Board of Aldermen recently approved the fiscal year 2019 budget. While it is a balanced budget, I still have concerns regarding our schools and their needs. Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to remind you of the challenges we face.

“When the FY19 budget was presented to the Board of Aldermen, I spoke about the fact that we have a revenue problem and not a spending or mismanagement problem. Without additional tax revenues coming into the budget each year, we will not be able to provide you with the current level of services.

“Here is the reality: I will come back to the Aldermen, later in the fiscal year, for a second appropriation to fund our schools. That additional money is absolutely necessary, yet it still will not be enough to cover the needs of our schools, and it is not a good fiscal practice.

“That second appropriation comes from what’s left in the city’s accounts after the books are closed on the previous fiscal year. It is a one-time source of money that is absolutely not dependable. Our financial staff is very conservative in their estimates, but every year, we are taking a chance that the money won’t be there. If, for some reason, we do not have this additional money, the effects on our schools would be devastating. And as I said before, this money is still not enough to cover the needs of our schools.

“We have heard loud and clear that our schools need more money to offer salaries that will retain quality teachers, hire additional teachers to reduce class sizes (due to our increasing population in the schools), and provide our teachers with resources as well as up-to-date educational materials for our students. Again, we can no longer address our budget shortfalls with one-time monies. The only way to avoid this problem is to increase the amount of the budget as a whole.

“Proposition 2½ was conceived in the 1980s, at a time when there were fewer mandates on schools and cities. While it served its purpose as a brake on spending, it has become too tight a constraint. We cannot continue to run our city on 1980’s money. A community like Melrose will need to consider an override in order to keep Melrose moving forward – both on the school side as well as the city side. With no new major sources of revenue expected, the FY20 budget will be even more challenging. I will be forced to propose devastating cuts to schools as well as city services.

“The alternative is to acknowledge the reality that expenses have increased faster than revenues, and to pass an override next spring that will stabilize our finances for years to come. With additional revenue I, and the next mayor, will be able to propose a budget based on reality, not hope; a budget that will provide the sound education we all want for the children of Melrose and will protect city services as well.

“All that being said, I would like to use the remainder of the year to hear your thoughts and answer your questions. This fall, I will host several community conversations about specific subjects. These will be an opportunity for us to hear your views and for you to weigh in on what you want the future of Melrose to look like. It is my hope that by having community conversations and providing the opportunity for an open and informative process that we can clarify the budget process, dispel myths, and deal with real facts.

“In addition, I have begun posting a series of articles on my blog to explain how the city and school budget works. I hope that this will make the process clear and transparent to all. As you read them, feel free to offer questions and comments.

“Next spring, you will have to make a decision regarding an override, and I want that decision to be an informed one. So please read, listen, talk to your neighbors, come to the forums, and let me know what you think, because this will be a decision we will all make together,” the mayor concludes.