There will be no tax increase in Barrington this year – perhaps for the first time ever.
Kathy Cadigan, chairwoman of the Committee on Appropriations (COA), made that announcement to a joint meeting of the Town Council, School Committee, Ad Hoc Budget Forecast Committee and COA Wednesday evening in the library auditorium.
“A flat zero-tax increase has been achieved, barring any surprises in two weeks,” Cadigan said, referring to the annual Financial Town Meeting on May 23.
“We need to celebrate this and give credit all over the place,” she said.
Her opening statement to the town meeting might well be no longer than the Pledge of Allegiance, Cadigan quipped.
“This has been achieved most significantly through lean and mean work on both sides of government,” she said. “Every possible expense has been examined. It’s been a very efficient process. It’s not easy to get all these cuts together.”
Cadigan described the no-tax-increase budget of almost $62 million that will be put before the town meeting as “a huge psychological boost to the town.”
The joint meeting was actually put together by the Ad Hoc Budget Forecast Committee to present the results of their longer-range assessment of spending in Barrington. Town Moderator Julia Califano presided over the meeting after Geoff Grove, chairman of the ad hoc committee and a member of the COA, made the presentation.
Grove was not quite as enthused over spending down the road as Cadigan is this year. He described the presentation as: “What happens beyond this year? What are the budget implications?”
The news from the ad hoc committee is that if Barrington continues to spend for day-to-day operations as it has over the past 10 years, the town will be unable to afford capital projects by the year 2020. A pretty dire message, he said.
Among the capital projects being discussed are $5 million in road improvements, a community center at an estimated cost of $5 million, and a new middle school at an estimated cost of $30 million or more.
“We either increase the tax levy by 3.5 percent per year starting next year,” Grove said, “or change the assumptions on which the forecast is built.”
Among those assumptions is that school spending goes up 4 percent a year and municipal spending increases 2.1 percent a year.
“Assuming a 4 percent tax boost each year (the state cap),” Grove said, “by fiscal year 2020 there will be nothing left for capital expenditures. We will never be able to spend on capital if we get to that point.”
“We will hit the wall in 2020, unless we change,” said Town Councilor Bill DeWitt, a member of the ad hoc committee.
There is a way around the wall, said ad hoc committee and COA member Nick DeRosa, including an override of the state cap on spending increases each year.
“But do want to take that step?” he said. “We can take action to have it all,” the operating budget increases and the capital projects, “or we can be more fiscally responsible.”
Among the suggestions for reducing operating expenses down the road were regionalizing services; privatizing services; bring in the best negotiator possible for the next teacher contract, which makes up 86 percent of the school budget; and using technology to change the delivery model in the schools.
School Committee member Chris Ramsden made the latter two recommendations. Referring to his point on salaries and benefits for teachers, Cadigan said, the contract is responsible for one-half of the taxes paid in Barrington.
DeWitt also suggested combining the two budgets into one to see if that might save some tax dollars. “We have to try to change the model,” he said.
Sending a message to the recently formed School Building Committee that their decisions over the next few months will have a huge fiscal impact on the town also was suggested by DeRosa.
“They should be here,” he said.
No specific decisions were made Wednesday night on future spending. But the Town Councilors, School Committee members and COA members decided to meet at least twice a year together from now on.
And for one year, at least, they will see a no-tax-hike budget presented at the Financial Town Meeting.