Town side of FY22 budget now balanced; school budget within $75K

Apr 29, 2021 by

Published April 29, 2021

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING — After weeks of reconciling the town’s available funds and the budget requests sought by municipal and school department heads for FY22, Finance Director Liz Rourke reported to the Select Board that the total shortfall has been reduced to just over $75,000 for a budget that exceeds $74.6 million.

The Select Board was impressed by the ability of the town and school department administrative teams, along with the Financial Planning Team, to pare back what had been a combined shortfall of over $1M a few short weeks ago.

The total available funds for FY22 is $74,613,314, Rourke stated. Taken off the top of that are fixed costs of $22,608,179, which leaves a total of $17,824,220 available for the municipal budgets and $34,180,314 available for the town’s five schools, she said.

As of April 26, the day of the meeting, the municipal budget has been more than balanced based on the department heads’ recommended budget requests totaling $17,813,470. This left an additional $10,750 that can be applied toward the shortfall in the school department’s budget.

Currently, the school department has reduced its budget to $34,267,117, leaving a shortfall of $86,202 to reconcile. With the additional $10,750 applied from the municipal side, a net shortfall of $75,452 remains to be balanced in the school budget.

After last Friday’s Financial Planning Team meeting, Rourke said the school department felt, “very confident that they will have their budget reconciled.”

Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto agreed with her assessment. “They’re going with very conservative estimates because of the unknowns associated with COVID,” he said. “I don’t want to speak for the School Committee, but I can tell you that those who were on the virtual meeting with representatives of the School Committee think there is an understanding that we were there in terms of being able to reconcile the budget overall between now and May 10.”

The School Committee’s next meeting on the budget is May 10 and the Annual Town Meeting is not until Saturday, June 5 at 9 a.m. at Arthur J. Kenney Field so time remains to ensure it is balance.

Select Board Chairwoman Kate Manupelli reminded everyone that the town’s department heads had been asked to be conservative in their requests once again. “The way that the budgets were requested were almost level-funding to ensure that we would be able to make it through successfully financially,” she said.

“It’s been a good exercise for the last several years for the department heads to evaluate the services that they provide (and) the costs associated with them,” Select Board member Stephen O’Leary said. “And there has been some changes in the approach, which allows us to adapt and be more efficient. But in many instances we’ve been running short-handed, chasing our tail, and it’s great that we’re able to bolster the delivery of services that have been required and requested of us. I think it’s great that you’ve been able to present us with a balanced budget. That’s quite an accomplishment.”

Select Board Vice Chairwoman Liane Gonzalez added that she was “thrilled” to see funds being provided for vital services in several budgets that had long gone under funded, such as Veterans’ Services and the Elder Services. “This is great news. A lot of people are going to be happy,” she said.

With regard to raising the trash fee $7 per quarter in FY22 to help close some of the shortfall in the trash budget, O’Leary asked if consideration had been given to the “legitimate questions that were raised in relation to covering some of the municipal costs in the tax rate as opposed to through the user fees” as proposed by resident Anthony LoRe at their last meeting.

Gilleberto said that based on the current stage of the FY22 budget “we did not deviate from the previous custom of setting the rate to match the total solid waste expenditure for the fiscal year. But it is something we expect to look at, along with the Recycling Committee, when we move forward for the FY23 budget, so we could see some changes…perhaps even with the rate or reducing the reliance on the stabilization fund.”

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