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Clarksburg Finance Committee Recommends $4.6M Budget

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The Finance Committee on Monday voted to recommend a $4.6 million spending plan for fiscal 2021.
The total amount of $4,569,877 includes the town's operating budget, the Clarksburg School budget and the assessment to McCann Technical School.
The Select Board is expected to review the budget at its next meeting. 
The figures are mostly set but the committee did make some updates on Monday, including the information technology budget and a school line item. The meeting was held by teleconference as Town Hall is still closed. 
Town Administrator Rebecca Stone had been adjusting the IT budget  to take into account services across departments. There had been several redundancies Stone thought best to bring together under single line items.
The total is $38,989 for security, consultant, and software and office support. Committee Chairman James Stakenas said that amount is lower than last year's total and covers all the town's needs.
Stone said the SoftRight accounting software takes up more than half that budget at $23,064. It also includes the shift to .gov email addresses, the consultant at about four hours a week, and the maintenance of the website.
"A lot of this has to do — especially now with everything happening — to going to our website, we've adopted that as a platform for meeting notices," she said.
Committee member Mark Denault questioned the amount penciled in for part-time police salaries at $27,054.
"We had upped the officer wages by a number [Police Chief Michael Williams] had requested in FY19 and last year reduced his budget by $10,000," he said. "I looked at 2020, we appropriated $20,000 and the spending was $10,000 and now the request is $27,000, however, he  hadn't even spent half that budget."
Stakenas noted that the funds had been spent down more since the accounting in March. 
"We recognize that there's some additional monies there, and this is based on his ability to hire and fill all the shifts that [Williams] needs," he said. The only change was a reduction in the salaries line item of $10,000 last year, he said, "but it was just a reduction on the request, not in what we needed to operate."
Deneault said he wasn't proposing to reduce the amount again but that his concern "is it seems like we're in a pattern of year after year where we're heavily over funding. ...
"If that's because we're unable to hire, that's certainly something that needs to be explained to this committee."
Williams had explained in the past that he was having difficulty finding permanent part-time officers and had floated the idea of hiring a second full-time person. That proposal was rejected by the Select Board. 
"It's unfortunate that he's not been able to access the people to fill those positions," Stakenas said. "We certainly have the funding to hire those extra shifts."
The school budget is up 2 percent, as agreed upon with the town, at $2,507,086. The increase includes contracted increases of 1.4 percent in the teachers' contract. Stakenas complimented Superintendent John Franzoni for his work on the school budgets the last two years. 
"Due to our social distancing, we've not been able to meet with the school department directly and they are the lion's share of the budget," he said. But, he said, he had conversations with Jennifer Macksey, the district's assistant superintendent of operations and finance, who also has been in contact with Town Accountant Donna, Estes.
"This is a good thing on their part to come in and present as well as using appropriately their school choice money balance down to the threshold we set a couple of years ago," he said.
But committee members did question the reduction of $10,000 out of a maintenance line item.
"Why would you take it out when the building needs so much work?" asked committee member Debra Lefave.
The nearly 70-year-old building needs a significant number of repairs and the town passed a $1 million debt exclusion last year of which half is going to the capital projects at the school. 
"My concern with cutting from maintenance of the building in the school budget, is that we've spent the better part of two years concerned about the conditions of the building," said Denault.
Stakenas asked if they should put it back in the budget or contact the school department to make a change. The committee determined to put the amount back but keep the bottom line the same. Stakenas said he would contact the superintendent.
Officials are anticipating the use of $98,000 in free cash to offset the budget. There was $518,892 in the free cash account as of July 1.
"So with the existing expenditures and the existing revenue, we're showing remainder of $62,728," Stakenas said. "So we have a balanced budget, and we have a few dollars of expected revenue at this moment in time that could help us should we need to."
The committee also briefly reviewed a draft warrant and endorsed an article to pay off the last of the library loan. The Select Board had wanted to do that several years ago but the finances didn't support it. 
"It's really up to the Select Board to decide but I'd like Finance to offer a vote so it's included in the warrant that goes out," said Stone.
Town Treasurer Ericka Oleson said the payoff balance is $64,138.20 and its at the point where the interest is as much as the $3,900 in principal every year. "It would be great to get this off the books," she said.
Stakenas agreed it would be a good reduce the debt service if the town has adequate free cash.
The Finance Committee was less sure about buying a $250,000 truck for the Department of Public Works. The truck would replace a 2002 that has been in for frequent repairs. 
Another truck loan at $15,000 would be coming off the books and the library debt as well, but Stakenas wasn't sure that would be enough. 
"There's just not enough information in front of me right now to feel good about asking for a motion to do this," he said. 
Lefave pointed out that the town had already approved an addition to the town garage to house the truck. Denault, however, also sounded a more cautious note because of the uncertainty of the state's economy. 
Without firm numbers in front of them, committee members decided they could hold another meeting or wait until town meeting before making a recommendation. 
"I think because of the work that [Accountant] Donna [Estes] and Ericka have been doing to provide numbers, this budget conversation has been from the very get go in January has been very good, straightforward, and we've been able to make some good decisions," said Stakenas.

Tags: clarksburg_budget,   fiscal 2021,   

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Clarksburg Town Meeting Passes $4.6M Budget, OKs Truck Purchase

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

Select Board member Allen M. Arnold is sworn into office by Jeanne Moulthrop, voted temporary town clerk for the meeting.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — A sparse town meeting burned through a 19-article warrant on Wednesday night under sunny skies. 
The meeting, held on the lawn of the Senior Center because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, swiftly approved a town budget of $4,565,710 and the purchase of a new Department of Public Works truck for $250,000.
Based on the financial articles passed on Wednesday, including a transfer of $98,000 from free cash to reduce the tax rate, the property tax rate is estimated at $17.86 per $1,000 valuation, three cents lower than this year.
The town has a current free cash fund of $518,892; town meeting also approved transferring $250,000 in free cash to the stabilization account and using $64,138.20 to pay off the library loan. 
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