RICHMOND – The Chariho School Committee’s vote last week to level-fund the school budget will cost the town of Richmond more money, according to Dave Krugman, the town’s finance director.
“Even though they level funded it’s still detrimental to the town,” Krugman said Monday.
He said a loss of state aid and the fact that a larger portion of Chariho students come from Richmond means that Richmond will have to pay a larger portion of the school district’s budget this year.
The town will have to pay nearly $350,000 additionally, even with the level funding, according to Krugman. This represents a 2.14 percent increase over last year’s contribution to the school budget.
Robert Cardozo, a Chariho School Committee member from Richmond, appeared before the Richmond Town Council Monday night.
Cardozo said because of the differences in population among Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton, the budget isn’t going to be exactly level funded, in terms of how much each town pays this year, but the overall budget will be the same as last year’s budget.
“Richmond sees increases because of enrollment figures,” Cardozo said.
Cardozo also pointed out that the school committee has taken about $500,000 out of its reserve accounts in order to level-fund the budget.
“When you take $500,000 out of your reserve account, you haven’t cut expenditures and that’s something we’re going to have to be facing at some stage,” Cardozo said.
He said taking the $500,000 out of the reserve account was not a cut to budget and the move left the school committee with 2 percent of the total budget in its reserve account.
“When you see $5 million in reserves its restrictive, because the budget ends on June 30 and employment contracts end Aug. 31,” he said. “You have to embargo that money for an extra two months because employees still have to be paid.”
Cardozo continued, “In all budgets, we take money from that reserve account and we offset our expenditures. We keep rolling over $1 million or so every year and keep, as minimum, 2 percent. We don’t know what sequestration or Obama Care are going to do. We too are really at the edge right now. If we don’t have that good feeling next year, and we have expenditures exceeding our revenue, we’re going to have an issue.”
Cardozo mentioned the school committee hopes to bring in more students from other towns to attend Chariho Career and Technical School next year and earn additional revenue that way.
Joseph Reddish, town council president, encouraged Richmond residents to write letters to state legislators requesting more state aid.
“The state starts mandating what you have to do and then refuses to support it financially,” Cardozo said. “With the budget cap it’s hard to fill in all of the blanks. If the council, with the support of the population, were to start putting a little more pressure [on legislators] to get a little more funds, we won’t be doing this again next year.”
Cardozo said the school committee welcomes any support from the town.
“If we can put party politics aside on this and understand that it is for our kids, this is for our students, and we have to do something about it,” he said.
Council Vice President Henry Oppenheimer also stressed the notion that the school committee’s reappropriation of the undesignated fund balance is only a temporary solution to the school committee’s budget problem, which will work for this year, but if this is an issue next year, the additional money needed would likely come from tax revenues.
The council went on to discuss the town’s budget and what cuts could be made based on the new school budget.
Town Administrator Steve Sette suggested reducing costs for elevator maintenance, the labor lawyer for the police department, building maintenance, tipping fees, well testing, hauling fees and contingency wages, which the council agreed to.
Sette suggested eliminating the Richmond Economic Development Committee’s budget, but the council opted to keep the committee’s funding at the $1,000 the committee requested.
Sette also suggested reducing equipment costs by $55,000, which include a new snowplow and two police cruisers. Sette suggested forgoing the snowplow this year and going from two new cruisers to one.
The council wasn’t comfortable with this request.
Scott Barber, public works director, said the current snowplow is a 1999 model and probably wouldn’t pass inspection this year.
“I’m not comfortable taking out a snowplow piece of equipment, especially with the weather changes,” Reddish said. “I would rather have a piece of equipment we know is reliable.”
Police Chief Elwood Johnson said he would like to address the age of the police department’s fleet, as some of the cruisers have more than 200,000 miles on them. The council suggested paying for one-and-a-half police cruisers this year, reducing this year’s expense by $17,000, and one-and-a-half next year, to which Johnson agreed.
The council also decided to reduce the budget for an information technology coordinator from $5,000 to $3,000, despite the fact the town is in the process of redesigning its website.
“One of our neighboring towns asked to level-fund the budget,” Reddish said. “Now we’re going to experience what that means. They got what they asked for at this point.”
In other council business, the council voted unanimously to form a town administrator search committee consisting of one town council member, two department heads, one non-managerial staff member and three Richmond residents, with Town Clerk Tracy Hay as an ex-officio member.
Richmond residents can apply for spots on the search committee through May 15. The committee is then charged with writing an employment ad for the town administrator position.
Sette’s last day is May 20.