Warrant Committee Uncovers More Revenue for Schools
Nearly $185,000 in additional money in latest review of town finances. But it's one-time money that could pull the schools from a sea of red ink into the black.
The town's Warrant Committee did the equivalent of searching in-between the sofa cushions and under the driver's seat to find a bit more cash to help close the growing deficit facing the Belmont School District in the fiscal 2013 budget.
In an exercise that showed both the fluidity of the town's budget process and how you can squeeze funding blood from the municipal turnip, Warrant Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Allison and Laurie Slap, the Belmont School Committee's representative to the town's fiscal watchdog committee, announced that the latest figures from the town and assumptions of state monies could increase reoccurring revenue by approximately $200,000.
But while the new number "is a positive and not a negative" in the words of committee member William Lynch, it comes up more than $500,000 short of the $709,000 in red ink the schools find themselves.
While it appears the schools will need to cut half-a-million dollars for its $48.9 million fiscal '13 level service budget – mostly in teacher reductions – there is a pot of $750 million in one-time money that a bit of innovative budgeting just may save the day for the schools.
Allison and Slap's revised the available revenue estimates from November with figures up-dated by the town's accountant just a few hours before being presented to the Warrant Committee's Wednesday meeting at the Chenery Middle School.
In their latest calculations, the town saw changes in four revenue areas, including:
• An additional $40,000 from new growth in town from $500,000 to $540,000,
• An increase in the capacity of funds not raised by an additional $36,000,
• A decrease of $18,000 in cemetery fees, and,
• Because the town's restaurant business is "booming," said Allison, the town's portion of the meals tax has increasing by $70,000.
Subtract $37,000 in fixed costs and the town has added $165,000 in revenue since the first estimates four months ago.
The amount could have been substantially larger if it wasn't for an unanticipated $120,000 surcharge by the MBTA on "heavy-use" communities. It was assumed that the 'T' would not charge the fee in an election year "so we are very unhappy with this," said Allison.
Not much more in state aid
Allison and Slap said that the only remaining opportunity for the town to see a significant increase in its available revenue coffers will be approximately $20,000 and change in the House of Representatives' budget that will be finalized in May.
The sum of all the adjustments comes to $185,000, said Allison.
Yet there is another supply of money that would appear to fill the school gap and then some. One-time cash adjustments are just that; specific savings or revenues that occur only in that fiscal year. A perfect example is the $250,000 the town has in its snow removal fund that was inactive due to the warm winter; it's unlikely successive years the account will have the same generous dollar amount.
In addition to the snow fund, the town has $140,000 in a FEMA transfer, $25,000 from the collection of back taxes and $300,000 in an error discovered by the Department of Revenue concerning the town's sewer enterprise fund, totalling $750,000.
And while the money is available, it will not be heading to fill the school's budget gap since, as Allison noted, the one hard-and-fast rule of the Warrant Committee is not approving the transfer of one-off gains like back taxes to pay for a reoccurring expense such as teacher's salaries.
And since nearly the entirety of reductions facing the schools are annual expenses – teaching positions and instructional expenses – at first glance, the schools should be facing cutting educators in the Spring.
But Allison did hold out a financial remedy facing the cash-strapped schools. Under one scenario, the $750,000 in one-time cash would be used for capital budget expenses throughout the town.
Usually performed in years where communities have greater-than-usual amounts of free cash and lower-than-normal annual revenue monies, the one-off money would free up an equal amount that could then be transferred to the schools to close the half-million dollar deficit.
"It does take creative thinking to accomplish this task but" it is possible, said Allison.