Archive 2008 - 2019

Shaping Our Fiscal Priorities II

by William Dowd




Note: The author is a member of the Holliston Finance Committee. The opinions expressed in this column are his alone, and should not in any way be attributed to the Finance Committee. 

With practically no input from residents, the Finance Committee is working its way through a FY15 budget “guideline” document. This is the foundation on top of which FY15 budgets will be developed. In the end, the budget proposals represent only “recommendations” from the FinCom. It’s up to Town Meeting – meaning the 120 or so voters who show up in May - to decide the actual plan. 

The dilemma is that by the time the budget gets to Town Meeting, so much time and effort has gone into its preparation that there is little patience with those who seek to pick it apart at the last minute. It’s like baking a very complex cake and having those to whom it is served ask to have the ingredients changed. It’s too late. 

That’s why the work that is going on now – in public, but observed by so few – needs much more community input. 

The FinCom’s budget model assumes a 2.5% increase in property taxes before the process even starts. You just received your first real tax bill for FY14. Is another 2.5% on top of that ok with you? 

The FinCom’s budget model sets aside money to add to our financial reserves. The FinCom has a policy to reach reserves equal or greater than 8.1% of the annual budget. We’re at about 4.6%. Even though our bond rating was recently upgraded, the FinCom seeks to accelerate our path to the target. 

The FinCom’s budget model increase the annual set aside for Capital. While there is no complete capital needs or spending plan, our current annual appropriation appears low both in relation to what some other towns are doing and the capital needs that have been brought forward by departments in prior years. 

Both of these set asides take money away from departmental operating budgets. In conjunction with these set asides, the FinCom voted to set a 1.5% budget increase guideline for FY15. Some have already expressed that current services cannot be maintained at a 1.5% increase rate. Some would suggest that our reserves and Capital needs should wait until we’ve more fully recovered from the many years of very low to 0% budget increase guidelines. What do you think? 

The voted 1.5% guideline increase was made applicable “across the board” – every department is allowed the same increase. Some think the guideline should vary and align with our priorities as a community. What do you think? 

The FY15 budget, like the FY14 budget includes $1.5 million to put aside toward our $45 million liability for retiree health insurance. Basically, that $1.5 million has been pulled out of operating budgets and made to fit within a Proposition 2 ½ compliant annual budget. At least one town handled its retiree health insurance obligations through a Proposition 2 ½ override. Should Holliston consider the same? 

The School Committee is proposing the implementation of tuition free full-day kindergarten. According to their calculations, the ongoing cost is small but the FY15 impact is over $400,000. What do we do about that? 

Keefe Tech has given us a broad heads-up that the roof of that school is in need of replacement. We don’t know how much that will be, but it also will likely need to be figured into our FY15 budget. 

All of the Town and School union agreements are either in negotiation or expire before FY15 begins. These negotiations take place in private without any awareness in the community of what the unions are proposing, what the Town is proposing or how those competing proposals are negotiated, traded off and resolved. However, when they are all done, the cost of them will be put forward to taxpayers as “contractual obligations” that the Town MUST Pay. With over 2/3 of the Town’s annual budget devoted to employee pay and benefits, these secret negotiations have a huge bearing on our annual budget and yet, there is so very little awareness or involvement in the negotiations other then the small groups of officials who negotiate them. My prior efforts to point out opportunities to modernize these agreements, our pay plan, our benefits and our Personnel By-Law were a complete failure. I’ll be trying again and trying to get the FinCom to be more assertive, but without broader feedback from the community, I will likely be dismissed once again as a solitary voice amidst a community that generally defers to the good judgments of our elected officials. 

May 5th will be way too late to make any serious difference in the proposed FY15 budget. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, now is the time. The meeting schedule for the FinCom, Selectmen, School Committee – all boards and committees for that matter is easily accessible on the Town’s website:

The Finance Commitee website is: