This following letter was submitted by Marie Angelides, Chair- Longmeadow Select Board.
On May 13th at 7:00 pm Longmeadow will hold its annual town meeting. This year it will be especially important for residents to come and have a voice in the decisions being made on the town budget. The town manager, Stephen Crane, the Departments, and committees worked hard this budget year to go from an over $600,000 projected deficit to a balanced budget that allowed for increased hours at the Adult Center and a new program in the elementary schools costing over $500,000. This balanced budget was $170,000 under the 2 ½ percent tax levy. The extra money was put towards infrastructure.
As you may have read in the papers, residents have not been happy with the School Committee’s decision to fund the literacy program in the elementary schools and charge tuition for full day kindergarten. The superintendent had a series of meetings emphasizing the importance of full day kindergarten, but prioritized funding for the “literacy program” instead that replaced teacher’s aides with certified teachers in each of the elementary schools to improve test scores.
At town meeting there will be an amendment on the floor asking for an additional $400,000 in the school budget to eliminate the tuition for full day kindergarten. The residents believe that the funds in the Town’s Operational Stabilization Fund and/ or Free Cash should be used to pay for the tuition.
I will be speaking against the amendment. The Free Cash being referred to as a funding source is the projected Free Cash that is will not be certified until the Fall. Responsible fiscal policy is that any projected, Free Cash (unused funds budgets and projects) should not be used until certified after FY14 in September and that the money be used for non-recurring expenses such as Capital or emergencies such as the October 2011 storm. The Town also has a policy that states any unobligated Free Cash over $500,000 be placed in the Operational Stabilization Fund. Rating agencies such as Moody’s look very poorly on the use of projected uncertified Free Cash to balance an operating budget. Rating agencies recommend that a town have 5-10% of the general fund expenditures in the Operational Stabilization Fund. We are at 6%.
By ignoring our own fiscal policy and municipal finance best practices and use the Operational Stabilization Fund or uncertified Free Cash to balance an operating budget, we risk our credit rating and risk higher costs for borrowing in the future.
For the above reasons, if the amendment to fund full day kindergarten passes, the Select Board will be obliged to cut programs and staffing on the general government side of the budget. These are programs that benefit the entire town. The cuts will be noticeable and, in some cases severe. Raising taxes does not appear to be a reasonable option; taxpayers have already absorbed an increase in taxes to build the new high school.
Unfortunately, the choices here are difficult. If the residents want to cut programs, hours, and staffing to support a full day free kindergarten, the Select Board will move ahead with those cuts. In either case, the will of our community will prevail. I urge all of you as citizens to come to the Town Meeting and have your voice heard and your vote counted in this very important matter.
Chair of the Longmeadow Select Board