|By G. Michael Dobbs|
GRANBY "The day of reckoning has come," Granby Selectman Byran Hauschild said last week.
Hauschild made the comment at the beginning of an informational meeting on Thursday evening about the proposed Proposition 2/12 override votes that will be decided at the May 15 election.
Finance Committee Chair John Libera told the audience of about 30 people gathered at the High School that Granby's municipal budget is between $15 and 16 million and that the town will be approximately $1.25 million short in revenue.
In past years, revenue shortfalls have been made up with funding generated by town landfill. However, Libera said that landfill will close in five or six years and the town must prepare for it.
Rather than just one override for the total amount needed, Hauschild explained that each department affected by the budget shortfall will be voted on separately.
The total amount town officials are asking voters to approve is $458,840.
The impact on the tax rate if all of the overrides are approved is and additional $165.42 for a house valued at $200,000 and $248.13 for a house valued at $300,000.
The following are the override questions and arguments made for their passage by the individual departments:
QUESTION 1: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $1,500 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Memorial Day Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006?"
The $1,500 is the complete cost of conducting the annual Memorial Day services. A NO vote would cause these services to be eliminated. We believe that this budget should be funded to remember our veterans who have served this Country, some of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice. In these times, this is the least the Town can do to honor our veterans of the past and those who are currently serving overseas.
QUESTION 2: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $2,774 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Conservation Commission Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006?"
A NO vote would mean no budget for the fiscal year 2007 for the Commission. The Commission consists of seven volunteer members appointed by the Board of Selectmen. Therefore, there are no wage expenses for the Commission and our budget is minimal. Typically, our expenditures are for items such as office supplies, dues to the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions, training and educational fees (so the Commission can stay abreast of new regulations), advertising fees, postage required to mail the Commission's official documents to applicants via certified mail, return receipt, as required by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Without the minimum budget that we are requesting, we are uncertain of how we can adequately perform the duties that we are expected to. It would be impossible for the Commission to o administer the Wetlands Protection Act without funds. It is our understanding that if the Commission were unable to perform their duties, that burden would revert back to the Board of Selectmen.
QUESTION 3: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $3,350 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Animal Inspector Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006?"
The function of the Animal Inspector is a State required service. His main function is to quarantine all animal bite cases whether or not it is a human bite or an animal bitten by another animal. Quarantines are extremely important, especially with the ongoing rabies problem in Massachusetts. The Animal Inspector examines each location where large and small animals are kept in Town to ensure these animals are kept in a manner that would not pose a human threat to the animals and the public. This required position reports directly to the State.
QUESTION 4: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $4,138 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Town Treasurer Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006?"
The Treasurer's office record keeping and documentation will be gravely compromised in the event that the $4,138 override ballot question receives a NO vote. The $4,138 represents wages that will be paid to a part-time employee at approximately $12 per hour for approximately seven hours per week for the fifty-two weeks during fiscal year 2007. Currently the majority of the seven hours per week, which was funded by the Stabilization Fund for fiscal year 2006, are spent performing data entry by an extremely proficient typist. The loss of those seven hours and specifically the current part-time employee would return the Treasurer's office to a state of delinquency with regards to deposit logs, monthly interest reports, check reconciliations, and the cashbook.
QUESTION 5: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $4,554 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Town Clerk Department for the fiscal year beginning July I, 2006?"
The Town Clerk's office is an essential part of our Town's government and assists our residents in numerous important ways. We receive many numerous requests for information involving such things as birth/marriage/death certificates, marriage intentions, special permit applications, licensing dogs, business certificates, raffle permits, meeting postings, notary services all on a daily basis. We also handle all elections, certifying nominations and petition papers for State and local affairs among other duties as they arise. The $4,554 would be money utilized for a flex part-time clerk who is properly trained to keep the office operating at an optimum level when the Town Clerk is attending meetings, out of the office and also in very busy periods. In a growing Town such as ours, it would be extremely difficult to continue the amount and quality of services that have been provided in the past if the Town votes NO on the override ballot question for this office.
QUESTION 6: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $5,460 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of finding the Visiting Nurse Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006?"
Many communities in the State provide required health assurance services to the townspeople, many of which are elderly, by employing one or more nurses. At one time, the Board of Health did employ a registered nurse. In an effort to contain costs associated with this provided service, the Board contracted with the Visiting Nurse Association. This is an extremely cost effective way of providing these services compared to the rest of the Town budget. This $5,460 is a very small fee. By placing this required service on an override ballot, you are providing the potential of completely not funding a required service.
QUESTION 7: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $8,287 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Tax Collector Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006?"
The Collector's $8,287 portion of the override ballot question is compensation for the clerk's salary (12 hours per week, flex). At this time, with the clerk's assistance, incoming payments are accurately processed, deposited and posted, with turnovers made to the Treasurer's office on a timely basis. Record keeping has been computerized, either through the Town's software program, POINT, or Excel spreadsheets. Municipal Lien Certificates are now prepared within the ten day time period as mandated by law. The detailed lists (outstanding taxpayers lists) recommitted to me have been reconciled to the control book and have been reviewed to determine what is collectable in order to proceed with collection procedures. Without the clerk's assistance, the Collector's hours would have to be dedicated to preparing mailings, processing incoming payments and posting, which would not allow the time needed to pursue outstanding accounts or to maintain the reports mandated by law. The Mass. Department of Revenue Financial Management Review report states the Town needs to budget more time to Town offices to properly handle the Town's finances. A NO vote would seriously set back the improvements in time management and record keeping that has been established in the past three years.
QUESTION 8: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $8,725 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Tree Warden Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006?"
The $8,725 represents the entire Tree Warden budget. It is mostly an emergency service. We are out during storms when trees are knocked down into the roadways. We take down dead trees around town that are a hazard and could fall on traffic and injure people. Townspeople also call when trees are near the roadway and are hazardous. We also do some tree and shrub planting for the townspeople and also on town property. We helped with the trees and shrubs around Town Hall and planted some trees at Brown Ellison Park and the Town Library. Losing the budget would mean trees lying on the sides of roadways with no money to hire any help to do any cleanup.
QUESTION 9: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $13,989 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Recreation Commission Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006?"
The $13,989 represents the total budget for the Recreation Commission. A NO vote would eliminate the ability of this department to offer recreation activities for the youth of the community. This budget helps maintain a reasonable rate for residents to send their children to the summer recreation program. This budget also purchases supplies for the spring softball program and pays for the umpires. Without any funding, the youth of the community would have to rely on private organizations to offer programs for them during after school hours and during the Summer. This amount of money is a good investment in the youth of the community to foster healthy children through physical activities. Additionally, many of the lessons learned while participating in our programs stay with a child through adulthood.
QUESTION 10: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $19,390 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Dog Officer Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006?"
The $19,390 is the complete budget for the Dog Officer. This department is responsible for enforcing non-licensure of dogs in the Town, responding to complaints of residents, enforcing the Town's canine bylaw, picking up stray animals and housing of these animals. The Town originally conducted these functions itself by operating its own animal shelter. When the costs started to become prohibitive, the Town contracted with the Thomas J. O'Connor Animal Shelter, thus cost-effectively performing these functions. If this budget were not funded, there would be no funds to perform these activities. There would be no one to deal with stray dogs, respond to resident complaints or have a place to house stray animals.
QUESTION 11: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $22,268 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Assessors Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006?"
A NO vote would cause layoff of the part time (27 hours per week) clerk position. The clerk position is essential because there are constant requests for information and assistance from Town of Granby citizens and other Town of Granby departments. The clerk also handles all requests for information and assistance at the counter. The presence of the clerk ensures that the important clerical work is completed and accurate. In the month of March alone, the clerk processed 6036 motor vehicle excise tax bills with a total tax due of $501,567.50 and $6,538.77 in motor vehicle abatements. DOR Financial Management Review Recommendation #27, Maintain Current Data: Obviously if there is no clerk, there cannot be maintenance of the current data nor input of future data in a timely and accurate manner. The public office hours would be reduced to only a few hours per day and most requests for information will be required to be made in writing.
QUESTION 12: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $55,245 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Highway Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006?"
The Highway Department staff for fiscal year 2006 consisted of six full time and one part time positions. The fiscal year 2007 budget for our department has two employees' salaries contingent on the passage of an override. If this override should fail, these two positions will be eliminated. This may not be a significant reduction in a large organization; however, this will be almost a one third reduction of our workforce. These cuts are coming after losing a foreman/equipment operator three years ago. Obviously, this will be devastating to our department. The loss of these positions will drastically reduce the amount of work performed by our department. We have already pared our operational budget to below what is necessary to maintain critical services at minimum levels. As you know, many of our cost are tied to the price of oil, and these material prices have increased significantly in recent years while our budgets have been held constant or cut. Because of this net reduction in purchasing power, we have witnessed a steady degradation of our roadways throughout town. Further cuts in our budgets, whether it is a cut in labor or materials, will not result in long-term savings to the town. The roads will have to be repaired at some point in the future. Allowing the roads to fail completely is proven to be more expensive than keeping up with routine maintenance. These cuts will only put off the inevitable. History will prove any cuts to be counterproductive and fiscally irresponsible. In the past, the taxpayers have been critical of many of our services-- such as the frequency of lawn mowing at parks. These problems were persistent because of our limited staff. Even with careful prioritization, it was difficult to provide an acceptable level of service. Further staff reductions will make these problems more acute. We have not even mentioned the deleterious effects the proposed cuts will have on winter snowplowing operations. Contrary to public perception, our department provides most services quite efficiently and economically. The amount we spend on winter snow clearing for example is approximately one-third the amounts per road mile that some of the surrounding communities spend. You simply cannot impose such severe cuts and not expect significant reduction in services. In addition to the obvious examples above, the effect of deferred maintenance may not be immediately apparent. The cost to open blocked drainage pipes or premature failure of pavements will arise years after the fact. The costs of these repairs are typically far more expensive than performing the routine maintenance. For this reason, we do not believe that there will be any long- term savings to the town by decimating our staff. In the short term, yes, we will have a balanced budget; but this poor management of our assets will prove to be very costly to the town in the end.
QUESTION 13: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $125,940 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Granby Public School Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006?"
The Override Question for the Schools is based on the Governor's proposed budget. It is a rare occurrence when the figures that are proposed in January are the actual figures that are used for the determination of Minimum Net School Spending. The actual House and Senate budget figures will not be available before the middle of May. In light of these facts, should the House and Senate appropriate more money for education, the School Committee is prepared to either reduce the amount on the Override Question or to completely remove the question from the ballot. But, should the Governor's Budget hold and the override not pass, the School Department would have to reduce the budget by $125,940, which would mean:
The loss of a fulltime Social Worker at the Jr./Sr. High School.
The loss of a part-time Social Worker at East Meadow.
The loss of added Health/P.E. programs at East Meadow.
The elimination of any music courses other than Band at the Jr/Sr High.
The elimination of the Athletic Trainer's position.
The establishment of fees for all clubs.
The reduction of custodial coverage in all buildings.
The reduction of supplies in all schools.
The reduction of English Language Learners services by 50 percent.
Less money available to hire the most qualified teachers to replace the five retiring faculty members.
Approximately $35,000 in cuts in other programs
QUESTION 14: "Shall the Town of Granby be allowed to assess an additional $183,220 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the Ambulance Department for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006?"
A NO vote will eliminate funding for daytime ambulance and fire staff. Currently, the two career staff members either respond as Emergency Medical Technicians, if there is a medical call, or respond as Firefighters in event of a fire - seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The majority of our calls are between these times. This service will be eliminated. Our current ambulance license requires us to provide Advanced Life Support level of service seven days a week twenty-four hours a day. The elimination of daytime coverage will cause us to lose this level of service from the State licensing board. While in the short-term there may be funding for call force for nighttime -- it will reduce to a basic level of service and would soon expend funds in the account and not be able to operate. Additionally, a NO vote will add serious delays in fire response and will depend 100% on the call force of which is minimal during weekday hours. This will cause the insurance rating to rise - that will relate to an increase for individual homeowners or business insurance. At this time, two DPW staff are also firefighters. In the event of a major incident, they typically are available to respond. The DPW vote could also affect their availability compounding our ability to respond.