Dalton Sees Drop in Free Cash; Appoints New PatrolmanBy Dan Gigliotti
10:45AM / Tuesday, December 10, 2013
New Dalton Patrol Officer William Munch thanked his family and longtime girlfriend following his formal appointment to the force.
DALTON, Mass. — The town is expected to see a significant drop in free cash, based on a preliminary budget for the next fiscal year presented at Monday's Select Board meeting.
A planning budget report by Town Manager Kenneth Walto estimates a decrease in free cash of approximately $350,000, which stands to have an impact on non-union employees.
The town's current estimate is that $500,000 in free cash will be factored into the fiscal 2015 budget, down from $850,000 this year. There is a discrepancy between the estimate Town Accountant Sandra Albano yielded and Walto's initial number of $650,000. According to Walto, a clearer estimate of the free cash funds will come after further calculations.
Free cash is calculated based on the underspending of state aid and town revenues at fiscal year's end; the state certifies the final figure.
"You go back 10 years, you'll see the state aid has essentially been level-funded," Walto said, during a demonstration of graphs and other statistical figures to the board. "I think we'd be wildly optimistic, at this point, to estimate that we'd get any more state aid than what we received last year."
As a result, Walto said the funds he initially hoped to use toward cost-of-living increases for non-union employees will not be feasible, as of the current projections. Given its current position at $136,000 under the tax levy limit, the town is projected to end up $40,000 under the tax levy limit, based on its planning budget, rendering it infeasible to appropriate the entirety of those funds for cost-of-living adjustments.
The board voted unanimously, with one abstention, to send a letter to a representative of the Central Berkshire School Committee to consider a zero percent budget increase and adjudication of $158,000 in an over-assessment of funds from fiscal 2014. Walto, who said the additional assessment is included in the town's planning budget, recommended the consideration based on past projects undertaken by the School Committee.
Though she eventually voted the motion to see the letter to the School Committee through, board member Louisa Horth was not convinced it would ultimately be approved.
"Wouldn't that be wonderful, if that's actually what happened? But I know [the School Committee has] a formula that nobody can understand, that they have to go by, so it's all arbitrary. But it would be great if they did take [Walto's] suggestion," Horth said.
Chairman John Boyle responded by saying, "I agree with you, Louisa, it's not likely to happen, but on the other hand we did get beat out of $158,000 last year."
Based on data compiled from the last 10 to 15 years, preliminary estimates show expenditures for uncontrollable costs increasing at a rate of 5.9 percent for health insurance; 6 percent for retirement; 2.6 percent for the school district; and a 13.9 percent increase for vocational education in fiscal 2015. Wastewater treatment costs may be up 5.7 percent, said Walto, though this expenditure is offset by revenue generated from sewer-user fees.
Beginning in late January, the Select Board will meet weekly through March or "as long as it takes" to create and approve a budget for fiscal 2015. Walto asked the Select Board to set three special budget meetings for Feb. 3, March 3 and March 17.
The Select Board's budget recommendation will then be sent to the Finance Committee, which will make a final recommendation to town meeting.
In other business, the board ratified the appointment of a new patrol officer to the Dalton Police Department. William Munch, 65 East St., who has served with the force since January 2012, first as a reserve officer and most recently as a temporary full-time officer, was appointed by Walto on Dec. 2.
Munch was selected by a three-member interview committee that included Dalton Police Chief Jeffrey Coe, who noted his high score on the state police test. Munch also served on the Dalton Fire Department.
The town currently employs 10 full-time officers, and Coe said staffing is "normal." Though it is typical for the Dalton to employ five part-time staff members, budget constraints have forced him to withhold considering filling two part-time vacancies until next fiscal year.
The board also approved the acceptance of a $1,500 gift given to the town by the Katharine L.W. and Winthrop M. Crane III Charitable Foundation.