FY21 Budget Proposal Nears Completion
By Gregory T Federspiel
Work on the proposed budget for Fiscal Year ’21, which begins July 1, 2020, is wrapping up. Final edits and any last minute tweaking are being made as we get ready to send the Finance Committee Report off to the printers the first of March. This report contains the proposed budget and will be the document that residents will use at the Annual Town Meeting as they debate and vote on the new budget.
The proposed budget for FY21 represents a level service budget for most departments. We are striving to provide the same services we currently provide. Increased expenses are due to the higher cost of doing business given modest pay increases for staff, increased health insurance premiums and higher pension costs. Very few operating costs are increased as inflation remains pretty tame.
The FY21 budget contains a few staff increases for the DPW. An additional person is proposed in each of the three divisions – highway, water and sewer. We are proposing these temporary increases to help in the transition as long serving employees plan to retire soon. Particularly in the water and sewer arena, it takes time to bring a new person up to speed and to obtain the proper operating licenses. Once the new hires have their new licenses and our exiting staff have been able to transfer the wealth of knowledge they have regarding the functioning of our utilities, we will return to our current staffing levels, at least in the water and sewer divisions. It may be that, in the highway division, an additional staff will enable us to do more repairs without the expense of bringing in an outside contractor and thus it would be cost effective to keep this extra person on-board. Even with an added staff member the department is still below the number of employees we had prior to layoffs that occurred during the 2008 recession.
The budget also restores a half-time clerk/receptionist in the Selectmen’s/Town Administrator’s Office. Having this position restored will enable greater customer service, quicker processing of the large number of requests for information we receive and more timely research of a wide range of issues that are presented. To help offset the increased cost of this position and the DPW positions, we have eliminated the expense of 1.5 positions elsewhere through attrition and consolidation.
The School District has proposed a budget that also represents level services. A slight boost in state aid and greater assistance from the state for special education costs is helping to reduce the increased costs to the towns. Also, after years of Manchester’s share increasing more than Essex’s due to enrollment patterns, the situation has switched. Now Essex’s enrollment is growing faster than Manchester’s thus the regional apportionment shifts toward Essex. Manchester’s appropriation to the District is slated to increase 2.9% under the proposed new school budget.
While not all the numbers are 100% finalized (if we can get through another month of little snow and ice we can avoid any deficit in our snow and ice account that otherwise would be added to next year’s taxes), as things stand now we should be able to have a total budget that requires a 2 - 2.25% tax increase rather than the typical 2.5%. Total expenses are actually lower than the current year due to higher than normal capital expenses in the current year which relied on our fund balance. An updated proposed FY21 budget will be available on the Town’s web site soon and distributed to all households at the end of March.