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Belmont budget debate begins next week

Posted by Sarah Thomas  May 5, 2011 06:47 PM

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Belmont Town Meeting members will take up the town's $86.6 million budget for fiscal year 2012 on Wednesday, May 11, after two weeks of delay as officials put the finishing touches on crafting an agreement that provides near-level services to both the town and schools.

The budget was balanced using savings from health care and approximately $1.4 million in extra state aid, said Ralph Jones, chair of the Board of Selectmen.

"The total we were able to secure from increased savings and state aid was actually greater than our regular year-to-year increase from tax revenue," Jones said. "That's very unusual."

According to the Belmont Warrant Committee, the final budget has $41,575,783 going to the schools and $30,073,932 going to the town - an increase of 4.7 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively. No free cash will be used to balance the budget.

On the town side, Jones said, no layoffs would be required within the budget. But the schools, said School Committee chair Laurie Graham, were not so lucky.

"The budget we voted is not quite level services, though we don't think it'll be substantially different after we finish collective bargaining," Graham said. "Right now, we're in the process of figuring out how we're going to disburse the extra money we received."

In February, the school department forecast a nearly $2 million gap between available funds and level services. The school department sent layoff notices to around 45 teachers earlier this spring, as parents and concerned citizens began advocating for a Proposition 2 1/2 override to fund the district.

Graham said about $1.5 million additional funds had been granted to the schools. Once the budget is approved by Town Meeting, Graham said that many of those teachers will be restored; however, about 10 faculty members will need to be let go.

"We're going to add science teachers back, but it won't be the same type of science curriculum," Graham said. "We're adding back art and music, but the programs won't be the same."

Jones said that the town had only been about $300,000 away from level services before the windfall from the state.

"A lot of this money has been characterized as 'one time' increases," Jones said. "Some savings, such as the ones we achieved with our trash collection contracts, will recur, but the problem with state monies is that they can always dry up in a bad year."

Jones and Graham said the school and town would begin communicating quickly to address projected budget challenges for next year.

"We can't fix what's broken in a few weeks, and there's a lot of internal cost savings we will be looking at," Graham said. "But sometime before school lets out, we will begin preliminary conversations with the selectmen on what can be done to ease budgeting townwide in the future."

Town Meeting will also debate Wednesday night whether to adopt a state energy stretch code. On Monday night, a special town meeting will be held to transfer money from free cash to pay for this winter's snow removal costs.

Sarah Thomas can be reached at

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