Clarksburg Narrowing Fiscal 2015 Deficit

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Town officials are continuing to work through the budget to reduce a $57,000 deficit for fiscal 2015.

CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Town officials are pushing to cover a $56,817.06 gap in the 2015 budget.

The school department has already taken a $50,000 hit but officials say it may be asked to dig deeper.

"If anyone can tell me how we're getting $57,000 out of the town side, I'll be glad to listen to them," said Finance Committee Chairman Mark Denault on Tuesday night.

"I didn't get the impression that [Superintendent] Jon [Lev] wasn't open to other discussions tonight about additionally looking at the $56,000," he said, suggesting the amount could be split between the town and school budgets. "If we do, maybe we can go to town meeting as a unified group."

Finance Committee member Lori-Anne Aubin was not as sanguine.
"They gave us the $50,000. I don't think they can give us an awful lot more," she said, adding school officials would feel "why are we being penalized for an error that's happening on the town side?"

The school is not only making cuts but abandoning plans to install a modular classroom on the school grounds for a preschool program. The School Committee a few weeks ago thought it had found a financially viable alternative in a used modular classroom that could be moved to the school.

But even if the school budget can absorb another $28,000 in cuts, the town still has to cover the balance.

The town budget — including overages such as $36,000 for snow & roads — Denault figured at $1,351,094.21; the school budget is now $2,665,698 after the $50,000 cut. The total budget is $4,016,792.21.

Based on the House numbers on the town's cherry sheet (of state aid and revenue), he calculated the town has to raise $1,761,257.06. That puts the town over the levy limit by $131,507.06.

There's $80,000 in free cash that the state is allowing to be used toward this year's budget, bringing the amount to $51,507.06. Adding in the amount estimated to preserve the town's vital records ($5,310) brings the 2015 deficit up to the  $56,817.06.

A number of line items have already been cut or reduced, including taking out $10,000 for more engineering work toward a hazard mitigation grant and another $3,800 from road maintenance that Highway Foreman Kyle Hurlbut said can be covered by the state's one-time pothole money.

The committee's also gambling with veterans services by reducing the requested $50,000 to $45,000.

David Fierro Jr., who has stepped in as town accountant, said it could be possible to use unexpended funds in other town accounts to cover deficits in this year, such as snow and ice. Officials estimate that about $15,000 may be available in the town administrator salary and auditor lines. Fierro, North Adams' city auditor, cautioned that the ability to move funds depended on what the town's charter outlined.

Last year, town meeting had voted to cover the snow and ice deficit through the stabilization account. But, Denault said, the account is down to $109,000 and "cannot afford to take those hits."

"You can't keep taking if you don't put anything back," he said. "Historically, for years, we haven't put anything back."

The entire 2015 deficit could be covered by the account but he did not think it financially responsible to do so.

Officials are hoping they will round the corner soon by fixing the financial errors that have plagued the town for the last few years and are optimistic about next year. Aubin, for instances, noted that the town's assessor, Ross Vivori, had discovered Clarksburg had not been levying personal property taxes for years was looking to correct that issue.

The variation between the treasurer's and accountant's books has remained steady at $113,000, although Finance Committee member Rebecca Buck is still leery about making an ledger entry to correct it.

The committee is also hoping once the errors are fixed it will free up the $132,000 the state held back from the free cash account this year, and that if its Form A is filed correctly and on time this year, that will generate another $200,000 in free cash. That could give the town about $300,000 going into the next budget season.

Aubin said it was those financial errors and unreconciled general ledger items that were the real culprit.

"This year we're losing $132,000," she said. "If we had that $132,000 we would not be having this situation."

Tags: deficit,   Finance Committee,   fiscal 2015,   town budget,   

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