Cuts to town services an option to balance budget

by Town Reminder

Cuts to town services an option to balance budget
$500,000 budget gap has South Hadley seeing negatives

By Kristin Will
Staff Writer,

SOUTH HADLEY – The budget battle wages on as Town Accountant William Sutton estimates a $510,280 deficit for the coming Fiscal Year 2012 [FY12].
Based on preliminary estimations, budget requests and the governor’s revenues, South Hadley’s town budget for FY12 comes in at $42,335,555.
Town Administrator Paul Beecher said 2012 is the third in a string of tight budget years, a characteristic he estimates will continue in the future.
Beecher asked larger town departments, such as the Police Department and the Department of Public Works [DPW] to create budgets with five percent reductions from their FY11 budgets if possible, to which they complied.
In the past two years, Police Chief David J. LaBrie said his department has cut down on its electric and gas usage and doubled up patrolmen. The department also no longer responds to calls deemed “non-essential.” For example, during one of the snowy days which caused a two-hour delay at the public schools, a police officer was requested on Mosier Street to assist busses in keeping timely schedules. There were so many parents driving their children in to school that it was causing the buses to be delayed for their Plains School bus route stops, as well as creating hazardous situations for individuals in the area. The Police Department was unable to help out.
On the DPW side, two positions from which employees retired have not been filled. “When you get into a winter like January, people notice it in the sidewalks,” said DPW Superintendent Jim Reidy.
Other departments, while unable to make the five percent reductions, did come up with budgets that are lower than their current FY11 budgets. No town employee or school department employee received any sort of salary increase or raise.
Town Clerk/Treasurer Carleen Hamlin optimistically said, “It’s giving us an opportunity to be creative in some areas.” In her office, two honor students and elderly folks volunteer their time performing various clerical tasks.
The school department is requesting $19, 332,641 for FY12, which works out to be 47 percent of the town’s estimated FY12 budget. The school budget has increased 2.87 percent, and is $539,633 more than the FY11 budget, due to the combination of more incoming students who require special education services and a loss of grant money that was provided over the past two years by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This created a situation where the school system essentially faced a $500,000 deficit before the budget process even began.
The Ledges Golf Course is costing the town $396,673. That particular amount of money is not covered by a debt exclusion. When the course was built approximately 10 years ago, it was thought the course would quickly pay for the cost of construction. However, that is not the case, as “people aren’t using their disposable income for golf,” said Beecher. “This is going to be, I think, a year for change,” he said. Ledges will try a different marketing campaign, cut back on staffing and try other techniques to “find a way to break even,” said Beecher.
The town’s reliance on free cash to balance underestimated department budgets is reducing because the total amount of free cash has declined each year. Revenue from local receipts, such as motor vehicle excise, investment interest and building permits, has decreased because of the poor economic situation. It is estimated that just seven percent of the FY12 budget will benefit from local receipts.
Because of a reduction in not only local receipts but state aid as well, the town will have to rely more heavily on taxation. However, proposition 2 ½ limits the amount of funds to be garnered from taxation.
In order to reduce the budget, town officials will continually update projected revenues, search for additional funds and, more drastically, make cuts to services deemed non-essential.
“Further reductions … would hamper services that might not be acceptable,” said Beecher. “It’s going to be very challenging this year.”

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