The Board of Selectmen meeting last Tuesday started the FY12 budget planning process for the town, with in attendance all town department heads, the School Committee, and the Assessors. Excellent presentations of the current lay of the land were made by both Mike Sullivan and Warrant Committee co-chair Mary Alice Whelan.
Upon reflection, what was missed was for the Board of Selectmen to engage the town government’s brain trust on what the town’s general goals should be for this budget season. There were a lot of smart experienced people in the room, and only two were actually heard. That was a huge missed opportunity. The Town of Medfield is facing an uncertain budget year, mainly because the predictions are that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ local aid monies will have to fall by 5-10% if the state is to bridge its $2.2b. budget gap (it was made almost $200m. worse when we repealed the sales tax on alcoholic beverages). In real numbers for Medfield those predicted cuts in state aid would mean $350,000 to $700,000 less in the town’s budget. A large portion of the town budget is salaries, and you can do the math to figure out how many jobs it would take to make that up.
Given this situation, there should have been a discussion of what the town government leaders wanted to do to solve that dilemma and an airing of peoples’ thoughts. Should we craft two budgets, one with and one without an override, and put it to the voters at town meeting? Is it fair to plan on no pay increases for employees for a second year in a row?