Monday, April 14, 2008

Is Longmeadow Falling Apart?

This is the title of the front page story in the April 14 issue of The Reminder. After listening to the public forums on FY2009 budget and the Town-wide Facilities Study in recent weeks and last week’s discussion at the Select Board meeting regarding street drainage problems in the Woodside Drive/ Williams Street area, I believe that the answer to this question is YES!

For many years, Longmeadow has deferred maintenance on its town buildings (even the renovated Wolf Swamp Road and Blueberry Hill Elementary Schools have minimal maintenance other than janitorial services) and other infra-structure and has reduced other town services in order to help reduce the annual budget and avoid the annual need for a Proposition 2½ override. However, last year in order to balance the budget and avoid the significant loss of school and town services, the Longmeadow’s electorate narrowly passed a $2.1 million operational budget override (the first since FY2003).

The FY09 budget to be voted on at the upcoming April 29 Annual Town Meeting is a significant increase over the current fiscal year. According to the recently published Annual Town Meeting warrant, the recommended FY09 total budget is $51.3 million vs $48.4M for FY08)- an increase of $2.84 M or ~ 5.9%.

It is interesting to note that the Proposition 2½ limitation applies to property taxes only which for FY09 is ~ $36.9M- not the total budget ($51.3M). So with limited growth and property improvement, this primary source of increased funding for town spending is significantly less than +2½% per year (less than $1.0M increase in FY09). The town expects an increase in state aid for FY09 of ~ $182,000. So with a budget increase (FY08 --> FY09) of $2.84M other sources like our “free cash” account (aka savings account) are needed to balance the budget. In order to balance the budget over $1 million will be transferred from the free cash account and the operational stabilization fund.

Some urgent items on the town agenda in the next couple of years include….
  • Town employee collective bargaining agreements (including schools)

  • A new DPW facility

  • Construction of new high school

  • Town buildings infrastructure repairs

  • Street/ storm sewer repairs

  • Other ?

With limited annual increases in town funding sources and the “demand” by the Longmeadow School Committee for “level services” with rapidly increasing costs, the quality of life in Longmeadow is very much in jeopardy. It appears that unless significant cuts in town (and school) services occur, there will be a Proposition 2½ override in order to balance the FY2010 budget.

We clearly need to look at our fiscal problems not just for the upcoming budget year but forecasted into the future. Last year’s initiative by our Town Manager to structure a three year strategic plan (2007 – 2010) for town related services and facilities was a good start toward the long range planning that this town desperately needs but it didn’t address financial aspects. The Budget Strategies Committee tried to forecast the budget for FY07-FY10 and stated that if the Prop 2½ override was passed that there would be no override through FY10. Let’s hope that they were right!

In any event we need our town leaders (both town + schools) to help construct a 3-5 year strategic plan with a financial roadmap and not focus one year at a time.

Please take the time to vote in our poll on the subject of longer range fiscal planning. If you need assistance in signing in, please read our help page.

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