FY15 on the Radar

By John Anderson

At Wednesday night’s Finance Committee meeting, a budget kickoff was held for FY15. Although the July 1 fiscal year start is over 6 months away, much needs to be done.

Some work actually started in early September when department heads received information on the FY2019 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). On October 1, CIP FY2019 and amendment forms were delivered to Town Manager Julie Jacobson, and meetings with department heads have occurred since November 4th. Auburn’s CIP is projected out 5 years.

The next big date for the budget process is January 13, 2014 when operating budget forms and projected expenditure estimates are due in the Town Manager’s and Accountant’s offices. The updated CIP will also be forwarded to the Finance Committee on this date.

Town Accountant Ed Kazanovicz did a PowerPoint presentation that clarified the town’s financial position and set a target appropriation of $54,858,593.96, up $132,105.67 or a .24% increase from last year’s budget. The current numbers leave $167,688.07 uncommitted in FY15.There is also $3,319,246.05 in excess levy capacity.

Under Proposition 2-1/2, Massachusetts municipalities can increase property taxes by 2.5% annually. The Auburn budget uses a 1.5% increase which is good news for property owners. Of the 1.5%, 1.25% goes to operations in town while .25% funds capital needs. The untaxed 1% is referred to as excess levy capacity.

Mr. Kazanovicz said the biggest unknown in the budget process is the Commonwealth. State reimbursements are never determined in time for Auburn’s Annual Town Meeting, and educated guesses seem to be applied at this time of year. Consequently, department heads are being asked to be conservative and prepare a level funded budget where expenses are the same as last year, but salaries are allowed a 2% increase to meet contractual obligations.

When Finance Chairman Kevin Hussey took over the meeting he told department heads “our door is always open” if they need to discuss financial issues or make budget changes during the year. He also expressed some concerns about the middle school project including Town Meeting approval for CIP changes, renovations to the existing middle school and the process of shutting down school buildings.

Mr. Hussey suggested a joint meeting sooner rather than later so all concerned parties can be on the same page. “We are a small town and should be communicating.” He also said there needs to be some discussion on replacing the fire department’s tower truck which is 19 years old and in tough shape. How to finance a replacement in the $1 million range is of concern.

Before closing the meeting, Mr. Hussey thanked the Town Manager for her bi-annual “cameo appearance” at a Finance Committee meeting. The comment garnered appreciative laughter from the committee, spectators and Julie Jacobson.