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Town's boards discuss FY10 cuts, start FY11 budget talks

Date: 10/26/2009

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW -- Tri-Board meeting season has begun again.

The town's Select Board, School Committee and Finance Committee came together last Monday for an update on the fiscal year 2010 (FY10) budget and to discuss how to begin work on the FY11 budget.

With another impending local aid cut from Gov. Deval Patrick on the way, town officials must figure out a way to once again balance the current fiscal year budget. Paul Pasterczyk, Finance Director, presented how a 3.5 percent 9C cut in state aid would affect the town.

"Unfortunately, we may need to cut into the operational stabilization fund," Pasterczyk said of future cuts.

A cut of 3.5 percent now would result in a loss of $197,632 in state aid; the fiscal year doesn't end until June 30, 2010. Pasterczyk budgeted a 10 percent decrease in state aid for FY11, which would be a loss of $2,083,909.

If all goes to plan at the upcoming Special Town Meeting, $1.4 million in free cash and other reserves will be used to balance the FY10 budget.

With building permits down about 33 percent and impending increases in health insurance and retirement funding, Pasterczyk commented that there may be "zero reserves for FY11."

"We're dealing with double whammies," Town Manager Robin Crosbie stated. "We have reduced state aid and reduced local revenue."

Mark Gold, clerk of the Select Board, recently met with Crosbie and the various department heads to hash out new possible revenue streams, and Gold reported on these at the meeting.

"We were already looking for new revenue streams, and we want to offer things people would be willing to pay for," Gold explained to Reminder Publications.

The new streams of revenue wouldn't solve the town's overall financial situation, but they could help retain some programs and services.

Some of the options discussed included adult education classes that would be taught at the high school, a coffee kiosk in the library, wellness services and establishing a dog park.

"We talked a lot about commercial opportunities, like selling signs on ballfields," Gold said.

"The sponsorship naming ideas are probably the most feasible," Bari Thomas, Director of Parks and Recreation, added. "It would cover everything from dedicating a bench to placing a banner on a field."

According to Thomas, because the athletic fields are in such disrepair, Parks and Recreation is "always looking for alternative funding for projects."

Last year, the department operated on a budget of $1.3 million, and Thomas said she found more people used recreation programs this summer due to the economy more people stayed local than went away on vacations.

A few unusual options were listed by Gold as well. Among these were selling carbon credits to companies when new trees are planted in town or turning the Meadows into a sod or tree farm.

"I'm pursuing a company that looks for land and buildings to put solar panels on," he explained. "They get the tax credit, but we get the benefits of the solar power."

Even though more than two dozen new revenue streams were discussed, they would serve more as a Band-Aid than a tourniquet.

Mark Barowsky, chair of the Finance Committee, asked at the Tri-Board meeting, "The question is, do we want -- here's the word, folks -- an override [to deal with the loss of revenue]? ... It's not a simple conversation."

Initial FY11 revenue projections are scheduled to be presented to the Tri-Board at their meeting on Nov. 2.