FY19 Spending Plan Hits Budget Target, Offers Some Leeway

By: Ed Maroney

Town Administrator John Kelly and (to his left) selectmen Jon Fuller, Mark Mathison, Alan McClennen, and David Dunford vote the traditional way at town meeting in October 2016. The option of electronic voting will be on the board's agenda Feb. 7. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS The fiscal year that begins July 1 will see a projected 3.8 percent increase in the non-school operating budget to $20,197,000, just within the 4 percent cap imposed by selectmen this year. Adding projected school costs (at 4 percent for now as final numbers for the Orleans Elementary, Nauset Regional, and Cape Tech budgets are not available) and debt service brings the proposed spending plan to $37,186,810. Capital expenditures are proposed at $6,535,058.

Property taxes will rise 13 percent and the tax rate will go up 11 percent, primarily to cover debt exclusions authorized by the voters for capital projects.

In presenting the numbers to selectmen last week, Town Administrator John Kelly offered a positive note on health care expenditures, which had been slated to increase by 11 percent, almost $265,000. “Claims for the first six months of the year are running well below what was projected,” he said. “There's been a much more controlled approach and management of prescription drug costs. It looks like the Cape Cod Municipal Health Group will act on a recommended 6 percent increase. We would have an extra $120,000 already in the plan to fund some items.”

Kelly said there are “a number of needs for the town that we can't meet within the current constraints” that might be addressed with those funds. He discussed the needs with department heads during budget preparation talks.

He said “one full-time person does a tremendous job” in running the town's management information services department, but “we are beyond his maximum capabilities with respect to his time. He's doing (computer systems for) the police station, the DPW, this building, all our buildings. We're looking for a part-time position, 19 hours without benefits, for about $35,000.”

Selectman Mefford Runyon noted his own continuing interest in improving “our website and other avenues” of online communication and said he hoped a new hire could help with that effort.

Also on the list of needs that are at present unfunded is $20,000 for an electronic voting system at town meetings. Casting secret paper ballots on controversial issues and holding standing counts on others is time-consuming and can threaten maintenance of a quorum to do the rest of the town's business. The board will meet Feb. 7 with the town moderator and town clerk to discuss possible improvements to the meetings, including provision of child care.

Kelly said the $20,000 would cover rental of the electronic system and several days of programming, plus clickers for voters. “Does that cover internet service to Moscow?” Selectman Mark Mathison asked with a grin.

A demonstration of the system could be given at May's town meeting. One question, Kelly said, is whether it has to be used for all warrant articles, not just those with secret ballots. Ultimately, the voters will decide whether to opt for the system.

Continuing with the list of needs not yet covered in next fiscal year's budget, Kelly said a new full-time custodian position should be considered to maintain the new police and DPW buildings. He's slotted a $43,000 salary and $15,625 for benefits, coupled with a reduction in the police department's part-time custodian hours (now $19,912).

More hours (from 30 to 35) for Recreation Director Alan Harrison, at a cost of $8,325, are also on the want list. “Alan's got a lot of ideas about enhancing programs,” Kelly said. The program would also like to reclassify its playground director, a seasonal job, for an extra $1,000.

For the first time, the historical commission is asking for a budget. “It's the only regulatory board in town without clerical help,” Kelly said. The request is for $2,750 for a part-time secretary and committee expenses.

Unlike the others, one perceived need would probably require a general override vote, according to Kelly. He said Fire Chief Anthony Pike is “looking for a full-time EMS coordinator” to manage “ambulance billing and the regulatory requirements that go with that. He's also requesting that we reclassify an existing clerical position for greater responsibility with billing and management of the front end of the department.” That would cost about $6,615.

Selectmen and the finance committee will review the proposed budget and the capital improvement plan over the next weeks before each board votes its recommendations for the May town meeting. As always, their deliberations will be open to the public.