With school deficit, no finance director Glocester budgeters deliver proposal with 3.85% increase

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Glocester Budget Committee chairman Michael Robinson delivers the good and bad news to the Town Council.

GLOCESTER – Glocester Budget Committee chairman Michael Robinson delivered the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year 2023-24 at the recent Town Council hearing. The news, he said, is both good and bad.

“This took a Herculean effort to put together,” Robinson said. “I play poker on Saturday nights. The first rule of poker is don’t bet money you can’t afford to lose. The second rule of poker is you have to play the cards that are in the hand you’re dealt, and not the ones you would like. I have both good and bad news.”

The good news included bringing the budget in under the state limit of a 4 percent increase. The budget increase, he said, is 3.85 percent, or approximately $364,000.

The bad news is that in order to limit the increase, line items were removed, including setting aside $50,000 for a potential lawsuit, $25,000 for reevaluation, $10,000 from tree removal, and a limited amount for snow removal. Last year, the amount set aside for that line item was $75,000, while this year’s amount is $83,000. Although there was not much snow this year, said Robinson, if the town gets hit with a huge amount of snow next year, that money will have to come from the general fund. Other decreases included $10,000 for gasoline from the police department. If any of those accounts went over the amount allotted for the items removed, the money would all come from the general fund, as well.

“We basically brought it down $200,000, which brought us under the state cap,” said Robinson. “But, unfortunately, it is on paper. It has no bearing on what will actually happen in the town.”

The town general fund used to be at a “very healthy,” 17 percent of the town operating budget, he explained. Over the last three years that amount has dwindled to 14 percent. According to the Town Charter, it can’t go below 12 percent.

Robinson added that another concern was capital expenditures, which are capped at 2 percent of the operating budget, or $664,000, according to the Town Charter. The monies needed for road improvement in the upcoming years, however, were estimated to be over $1 million. Capital expenditures listed for the upcoming year only amounted to $700,000. Robinson added the town is $1 billion under capital funds needed when all projects are included.

“Nothing I am telling you now should be indicative of you going and voting down the budget,” Robinson told those in attendance. “The budget needs to be passed as soon as possible.”

When it came time for comments from the public, former budget board member David Steere pointed out a number of discrepancies in the municipal and school budgets, including the school deficit. The deficit was not $239,367 as reported, he said. It was actually $984,393. So, how did the deficit get lowered, he asked.

“They took an additional $566,958 from the fund balance,” said Steere. “I’m not sure how that was authorized.”

Additionally, the town transferred $178,000 to the account to lower the deficit, he added.

“They are in a lot worse financial condition than what was reported,” Steere said. “It took a lot of extra cash from two places to get them up to a deficit of $230,000.”

“These things that were done, this is all finance department and finance director’s work,” responded School Committee member Patricia Henry. “This was not done by the superintendent or the School Committee. We’ve been scratching our heads too, as to what the last two finance directors possibly had done, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

“I don’t care who put the budget together,” responded Steere. “The superintendent and the school committee are the finalists. Someone voted on that budget. Someone needed to look at that budget. If it wasn’t right, they should have brought it back to whoever to make right.”

Steere went on to question town departments overspending their budgets. He pointed out five departments, in particular, which had overruns, including the treasurer’s office, which overspent by $76,000; the public works department, building and grounds, $37,000; public works, vehicles and equipment, $36,000 and the police department, $77,000.

“To me, I don’t know how you overspend on your budget,” said Steere. “I know there are circumstances where you have to, but I would imagine the finance office sends out where you are on your budget. Overspending for that kind of money, I don’t know how you do it.”

He added that something should be done in the future to avoid overspending.

Henry said part of the problem lay in the recent overturn of finance directors for the town.

“This is a town which had never gone through what it is currently going through,” she said. “That is, we’ve been without a finance director for the better part of two years. We are not finance directors. We’re not accountants. We’re not financial people. We’re here as school committee people to make sure that curriculum and student’s needs are being served. Everybody’s been trying to build this budget without knowing who to go to and where to get the numbers from.”

Henry added that the regional schools just lost their finance director, as well. The council, she said, can still make changes to the budget for the better, moving forward.

Turning to Steere, she said she wished he were still on the Budget Board.

“Your knowledge is invaluable,” Henry said. “As much as I appreciate and respect you, this Monday morning quarterback thing doesn’t work for anybody. You should be on Budget Board.”

“Dude, that was awesome,” responded Robinson, referring to Steere’s presentation. “You know what would be even more awesome? January 1, we start out meetings. We’d love to have you.”

“A lot of us are volunteers without finance backgrounds,” said Council President William Worthy.

Councilor Walter Steere thanked both Tax Collector Jane Steere and Elizabeth Beltram, a financial analyst, for their work on the budget, adding that Steere has filled in as interim finance director until a new director could be hired.

“They have been working extremely hard over the last year to make sure bills get paid and we are apprised of things going on,” said Steere. “We do have two very competent people working for the town right now, making sure everything that needs to be done is being done. I would like to thank them for that.”

“Every taxpayer in this town owes a debt of gratitude to both Jane and Beth who worked very, very hard to get this done,” said Robinson. “Without them, this would not have been possible.”

“At the end of the day we all want the same things,” said Arnold. “We’ve got a lot on our plate. Everybody’s comments tonight were appreciated. We’re going to try to deliver the best budget we can.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. I don’t understand how “The good news included bringing the budget in under the state limit of a 4 percent increase. The budget increase, he said, is 3.85 percent, or approximately $364,000.” Taxes are still going up … Z

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