CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The Finance Committee on Thursday presented a fiscal 2019 budget that is coming in 2.69 percent below this year's budget.
The spending proposal for fiscal 2019 is $4,210,846. That's down from $4,327,247 this year, or a $116,401 difference. Based on projected revenues, next year's budget should be $600 to the good.
"We did some things different than have been done in the past," said committee member Ronald Boucher told the Select Board on Thursday. "We went through each department line by line by line, looked at everything, where we could save some money, where we were overspending. ...
"We spent a lot of time, and didn't make many friends along the way but I think people learned to respect us."
He credited school officials with taking much of the pressure off the budget by using about $280,000 in school choice funds. "They went over and above," Boucher said. "We wouldn't be where we are at today without them giving back."
The school budget was approved the week before at $2,409,566, down about $40,000 from this year. The assessment from McCann Technical School — based on enrollment and capital debt — is also down nearly 11 percent, from $342,169 to $306,146.
Most departments will see minimal increases: Public Safety is up 2.24 percent, Human Services & Recreation .69 percent, operations 5.49 percent and general government 15 percent. Some of these increases are because of contracted raises and, in the case of some elected and appointed positions, for partial restoration of expenses or stipends.
Facilities management is up 51 percent, or $13,500, to cover costs for communications and town building maintenance, such as fixing the back door at Town Hall. Licensing and registration is up 39 percent in part to cover 2018 state elections and early voting, education and training and a longevity stipend and step raise for the town clerk.
"This is a pleasant surprise," Select Board Chairman Jeffrey Levanos said, referring both to the budget as well as the process that created it.
This year's budgeting process was far different than in recent years, when errors, conflicting numbers and even the lack of a Finance Committee, often bogged down town officials in trying to put out a budget that was sometimes undergoing revisions just minutes before town meeting.
A newly established Finance Committee met about a dozen times with department heads and with the town's Accountant Donna Estes and Treasurer Ericka M. Oleson, both of whom the committee commended, to craft a spending plan without the aid of the Select Board.
"We just felt that because we had a great financial team, we could meet separately from the board," committee member Mark Denault said. "It was not to keep you in the dark on the project but because it was our job to come up with a budget."
The third member of the committee, James Stakenas, who had spent his first year all alone, said the panel had tried to restore lines to where they came down last year to create a level-funded budget.
"We literally did do line by line," he said. "We asked two questions: What's this for and is it sufficient to operate?"
Stakenas said the committee made sure there was some flexibility, or as he put it, the "technical term is 'wiggle room.'"
The committee also presented the board with a second balanced budget that takes into account the passage of a Proposition 2 1/2 override for $200,000 that would solely be used for capital projects.
The Select Board voted on Thursday to add the override to the town election ballot and discussed with the Finance Committee how a presentation could be done at town meeting even though it would not be voted on there.
Officials say the override would be temporary in that the town could vote to "underride" once the capital outlay is complete. They want to have $100,000 toward the school and $100,000 toward the town infrastructure in each of the next five years.
"I think it's important to have it at town meeting," Denault said, describing it as a "temporary fix to a temporary problem." "Or then an informational meeting for the details ... we would let them know that the School Committee is on board with it, that they set their cap. ...
"If it doesn't get out at town meeting, it looks like we're going back to the same old, same old, where we threw it out there and we were shock and awe. I just don't think it's the right approach."
Town Administrator Carl McKinney said he would ask Moderator Bryan Tanner if there could be a discussion point.
"We want people to understand something, this is not going to be forever," said Boucher.
In other business, the board heard from Ben England and Barry Coleman of Connecticut, who were representing a marijuana cultivation company. Coleman said he has had a long career in business management, including for Kohl's and a home improvement store in Connecticut, and was taking point for his son and England, who would both run the production side.
"We have to choose the town so it has to be a fair partnership," Coleman said. "We want to go to a town that's already zoned and wants us to be there."
Coleman and England said they liked the Berkshires and were looking at locations here. They were in Clarksburg to look at a location and introduce themselves to the board. If they decided the site was suitable, Coleman said they would be back before the board and would set up the required community meeting.
Robert Norcross also reported on some of what he'd learned at the state Commbuys training. Norcross and a group of volunteers are hoping to make renovations at the school and Norcross said he trying to learn how what can and cannot be done according to state laws in terms of purchases and labor.
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