Town Manager Peter Fohlin gave a broad overview of the proposed balanced budget, which is up 2.4 percent over this year.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Town Manager Peter Fohlin presented a balanced budget for fiscal 2014 to the Finance Committee on Thursday evening.
Fohlin offered the the panel an overview of the town's spending plan, which includes a total increase of 2.4 percent in expenditures to match the 2.4 percent rise in projected revenues.
Overall, the town is in a "strong financial position," Fohlin told the committee, citing an unused levy capacity of more than $540,000 and a stabilization fund of $727,000.
Fohlin explained that the town has been focusing on building up its reserves and maintaining its bond rating in anticipation of two major capital expenses on the horizon: the possible construction (or major renovation) of Mount Greylock Regional High School and the expansion and renovation of the town's police station.
The town manager credited his staff, singling finance director Janet Saddler and accountant Donna Estes for holding department heads accountable.
Fohlin also said he has fostered a culture of fiscal responsibility that has paid off.
"For 13 years, I've told the department heads that the only unforgivable sin is overspending their budget and that doing so is grounds to be fired," he said. "No one knows if I mean it, including me. No one wants to find out, including me.
"As I always tell the department heads, it's very difficult to save a dollar, but there are pennies lying around all over the place."
At its March 14 meeting, the Finance Committee will delve deeper into the dollars and cents that compose the budget, but on Wednesday, Fohlin painted in broad strokes.
The largest cost center for the town, education, stands to see a 2.4 percent increase under the budget as currently written.
Other areas — executive, finance and administration, inspection services, public safety, public works and human services — will see increases ranging from 1.2 percent to 6.3 percent that will ballance out to a 2.4 percent rise.
The cost center with the biggest percentage increase: inspection services at 6.3 percent, which represents just $25,702 of the total $398,231 increase in expenditures. Of that $25,702, $8,000 comes from an increase in the number of health insurance subscribers in the inspection services department, an increase that actually is offset by fewer subscribers in another town department, Fohlin said.
Speaking of health insurance, the town benefits for a second year in a row from no increase in the premiums it pays to Berkshire Health Group.
Fohlin said he was at a loss to explain why the town has been fortunate the last couple of years in regard to the number of health insurance claims its employees have filed.
"We did start a wellness program, but I don't see people eating an apple a day or jogging," he joked. "They look the same to me."
Fohlin then turned serious and said he hopes the town's employees do realize the benefits of healthier living — both financially in terms of lower premiums and in regard to their quality of life.
The committee will delve further into the budget at its March 14 meeting.
There were a few unknowns hanging over the budget as Fohlin presented it to the committee on Thursday night.
The town has just begun negotiating with the police about wage increases, but Fohlin characterized the initial talks as "harmonious." The town has not begun negotiations with the highway department.
Another unknown: the impact on the town's capital fund from a setback on the project to replace the Latham Street culvert that carries water from Christmas Brook.
Fohlin said the low bid on the project came in at about $298,000 — much higher than the $200,000 budgeted. Fohlin said the contractor is willing to wait until after May's town meeting for a final decision, but such a delay would throw off the project's timetable, as it requires ordering precast concrete culverts that require four months of lead time.
"[The delay] could mean we're not going to do it until next year," Fohlin said. "The problem is that we're not going to know what it will cost next year either."
The capital fund also took a hit in February when one of the town's sanders overturned after hitting a patch of glare ice on Sloan Road, Fohlin said. The town is discussing the claim with its insurance company, but he anticipates the payment will be far below the replacement cost of the $140,000 vehicle.