Clarksburg Struggling To Get Budget Below Levy Limit

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Town officials are being forced to slash some $52,000 from the fiscal 2013 budget to prevent it going over the levy limit.

The board had thought the budget estimates were on target two weeks ago but since found some of the formulas on the spreadsheet were incorrect, boosting the draft document well above the allowed 2 1/2 percent levy increase.

"We'll be nickel and diming every budget," said Finance Committee Chairwoman Mary Beverly at a joint meeting with the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday.

Selectmen Chairman Carl McKinney said he had already told school officials that they were looking at $25,000 in cuts.

"They didn't seem terribly surprised so I think they're OK with that," he said, adding the School Committee would meet Thursday night.

But by the end of Wednesday's meeting, the expectation was that the school would have to cut $30,000.

The school budget had been accepted at $2,319,000 two weeks ago. At that point, the school budget was $95,000 over foundation level. The cuts will put it just $65,000 over.

The boards sliced away at smaller line items, dropping expenses by $200 here, a $1,000 there. Some $2,000 was cut from the streetlight account and the police chief will have to do without a new truck.

"I know it's not much but I'm grasping at straws here," said Beverly.

But the Finance Committee was forced to put $13,500 back in for a principal assessor ($8,500), assessor clerk ($4,000) and education ($1,000). Michael Canales had taken on the post but resigned when he went to work for North Adams. Officials said that with the the town facing a revaluation, a principal assessor is essential. Beverly, who is married to an assessor, and McKinney, who is an assessor, both left the room during the discussion.

The committee balked, however, at the funding for tax collector and treasurer. The two posts are expected to be filled by a single person after the annual town election, when the treasurer will cease to be an elected position.

Finance Committee members expressed concern that based on the salary line item, the person in the part-time posts would be making more per hour than the new town administrator (who's potential salary was cut by $4,000). The board said it could not in good conscience recommend the raise.

But it became apparent that the Selectmen and Finance Committee were confused about expected hours for the post. McKinney and Selectwoman Lily Kuzia said the position had been envisioned at being at least 30 hours, or four days a week, and basically adding the two salaries together.

Beverly wanted to know how the town had voted on the issue.

Town meeting two years ago had voted to abolish both the tax collector and treasurer as elected positions but rejected reducing the town clerk. Selectmen and the town administrator had explained the warrant articles as wrapping all three positions into a full-time employee to improve customer service and accountability.

But Beverly said even if the pay was commensurate with the hours, it still added on $12,000 in insurance and other benefits. "Is it fiscally responsible for you to put another person on health insurance and benefits right now?" she asked.

"The whole issue was accountability, not about pay," said interim administrator Debra Choquette.

Beverly responded, "I couldn't agree more but you're writing checks you can't cash."

Officials also discussed asking the town to create a revolving account for inspectors in which fees collected would offset the expense of training and certification; withdrawing from the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Program to save $4,100 on the cherry sheet and buying the repellent "doughnuts" for a few hundred dollars; putting aside money in reserves for emergencies rather than budgeting in several departments; and asking that $1,200 in Time Warner receipts but used for a new copier.

They will also ask the state if the second of three $10,000 payments from the sewer fund could be received as a local receipt and added to free cash.

McKinney said the town is getting more state Chapter 90 funding (about $15,000) but much of the money will be eaten up in repairing the East Road Bridge. The town is still pressing the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funding to fix it.

The town is also reeling from a significant increase in veterans' benefits, a factor in a number of municipal budgets as the military draws down from overseas actions. The state reimburses 75 percent but not until the next year.

Officials said they felt townspeople would support it. "They have served us, we have to do it," said McKinney, adding. "I would appreciate the state helping us."

They left further discussion on cuts for next week since the state was expected to certify the town's free cash by Friday.

"We beat ourselves up over these budgets but the bottom line is we need these services," said Finance Committee member Paula Wells.

"We are going to figure something out that is going to be rational and balanced," said Beverly. "Not everybody is going to like it, but it will be rational and balanced."

*A posted meeting of the Selectmen to discuss town administrator candidates did not occur because one of the two selectman was late because of a family emergency. The meeting will be rescheduled.

Tags: Prop 2 1/2,   school budget,   town budget,   

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