Selectmen Get Good News On FY20 Budget Savings, Ponder Needs

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Municipal Finance

Budget and finance.

ORLEANS The selectmen put the proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget under a microscope Jan. 23 and also talked about rearranging the five-year capital plan. They discussed un-budgeted needs in light of some surprisingly good news: the Cape Cod Municipal Health Group is likely to vote this week for no increase in health and life insurance premium rates.

“They had a great year last year, with claims running very low, and it's the same this year,” Town Administrator John Kelly, who serves on the health group's steering committee, told the board. “With the fund balance built up, they can hold the rates at zero for all plans.”

Kelly's proposed budget had included an increase of $254,845 based on the anticipated rate jump. “This really drives the budget discussion,” he told the selectmen. “You're below (the) budget policy (cap on increases) now (in the proposed FY20 budget). Taking that money into account, you can address some of the other needs without going over original projections.”

“Let's not spend it all at once,” Selectmen Chairman Alan McClennen advised his colleagues.

During budget preparation, department heads were asked to note “currently unfunded needs and measures that would improve customer service and operating efficiencies.” Nine departments identified concerns totaling more than $700,000, ranging from a new full-time emergency medical services officer and four new firefighter/paramedics for the fire department to increasing the recreation director's hours from 30 to 35 per week.

The EMS officer position would require $79,555 in salary and $29,120 in benefits, while four paramedics/firefighters would tally a total of $215,730 in salary and $78,960 in benefits.

Kelly recalled a 2012 outside study of fire department staffing that recommended hiring two new firefighters and a full-time EMS coordinator. The firefighters were hired, but the selectmen at the time chose not to go forward with the coordinator because it would be a union position.

“There are requirements the state puts on us for EMS coordination and records management,” Kelly said. “It's in our interest to have more than a stipend paid to a member of the department to handle it.” But, he added, “I think the chief will tell you there's no space to add facilities needed for additional staffing.” Kelly noted that the last two firefighter positions had been created through a general override vote.

“The highest priority the chief has is an EMS coordinator,” McClennen said. “With a stipend (system), an EMS person starts the paperwork and then gets a call (for service).” Selectman Mefford Runyon said, “I have no doubt about the need,” but “would like to see more science in determining optimal staffing for the town of Orleans.”

“We need to sit down not with a 2012 study but a 2019 study,” Selectman Mark Mathison said, “and look at this whole thing in one big picture. Do we salvage that fire station so we don't ask the voters for another $20 million building? Yeah, we need more people, but we need to get ahold of this right now.”

A draft town meeting article to pay for a fire/rescue department study will be prepared for the board's review.

Another item of continuing interest may also appear on the May warrant. The proposed FY20 budget includes an estimated $24,336 increase in recycling costs, including hauling, due to reduced prices for materials globally. That prompted McClennen to suggest a discussion of adopting the pay as you throw disposal system, in which residents would buy marked bags for trash disposal and continue to drop off recyclables for free. DPW/Natural Resources Director Tom Daley will be asked to update the board at its Feb. 6 meeting. “By and large,” Kelly said, “(pay as you throw) is working in most communities.”

Returning to the “unfunded needs” list, the board reviewed a proposal to increase the youth services position at Snow Library from 28 to 40 hours and the principal clerk from 30 to 35 hours, a total of about $34,000 when fringe benefits at the town's rate of 36.6 percent are included. “They do a lot of programming,” Kelly said. “There are only two full-timers there. We've gotten to the point where we can't meet the demand with part-time staff.” He noted that the existing positions are already eligible for health benefits.

Also on the “unfunded” list is the $10,500 (benefits included) it would take to move the town's recreation director from 30 to 35 hours. One source of funds would be an increase in fees for programs, but that's something town meeting has frowned upon. “Alan Harrison is certainly doing a good job,” Kelly said. “Charging even modest fees would go a long way.”

Noting the board's historic opposition to recreation fees, Mathison said he'd consider discussing increases “if we're shifting more emphasis toward adults in the community who can afford to pay these fees for these programs, if we can do that and not whack families with young kids.” When Runyon said he would “love to do a town survey and get a sense of what people would like,” Selectman David Currier commented, “More bowling.”

“Free bowling,” McClennen replied to the owner of the candle pin lanes on Route 6A, sharing Currier's grin.

Harrison got an endorsement from Finance Director Cathy Doane, who said she hadn't realized how “robust” the recreation program was year-round until speaking with him during a budget review. It's “not just with older people but the sports like basketball,” she said. “If the refs don't show up, he has to referee.” Doane said Harrison uses his own funds to provide participation awards. “He does put in more than his 30 hours,” she said.

Selectmen will continue to review the operating budget and capital plan prior to sending both along to the finance committee for its review.