Finance Comm. Recommends Override for FY26 Budget

By Adam Swift

The Town Council is expected to discuss and vote on a proposed $61 million Fiscal Year 2025 operating budget at a special meeting next Tuesday evening at town hall.

The general fund budget is $61,205,014, an increase of about $1.5 million over the current fiscal year. The proposed budget breaks down to $35.9 million for the school department, $17.6 million for town departments, and $7.6 million for non-departmental expenses.

Tuesday night, the town’s finance commission gave its presentation on the FY25 budget, and did not recommend any changes to the budget as presented by Town Manager Tony Marino. The finance commission is composed of members of the council’s finance committee and the citizen’s finance commission.

However, finance commission Chair Matt Gorzkowicz did discuss the current year’s school department budget shortfall and said the town should begin looking at a Proposition 2-½ override vote for Fiscal Year 2026 to help prevent future school budget challenges.

In the spring, the school committee voted in favor of a needs-based budget for FY25 of $38,734,270.

The level-services budget for the school department is $37,634,288. That figure represents keeping all the services and programming currently in the FY24 budget, and is still $1.5 million short of the school department allocation in the overall town budget.

The school department and the town have been working to address that shortfall through a combination of some additional town funding and the school department implementing a spending freeze in the current year to prepay some items for next year.

Even with those measures, Gorzkowicz said the school department will be faced with some tough decisions to balance the FY25 budget just to get to the level-services figure. He added that the override will also likely be needed to make sure the schools can move forward and provide the kind of education Winthrop students deserve.

“The school department has some significant needs,” said Gorzkowicz. “This budget falls about $2.8 million short to fund what they believe is a needs-based budget, and I will say, I think the needs-based budget, as it is described, meets the needs and expectations that I think many in the town have for the school department. It is not, certainly, aspirational in any regard.”

Gorzkowicz noted that there are also positions in the school department that are currently funded by Covid relief grants that will need to be supported in the operating budget.

In addition to the challenges with the school expenses, Gorzkowicz said the town is also facing a number of potential needs on the capital side of the budget, including the need for new public safety facilities.

“We now have a facility needs assessment … that allows us to have a better understanding building by building what our capital portfolio needs are,” said Gorzkowicz. “That will require some investment.”

While there is good news with some debt coming off the books in the coming years, Gorzkowicz said long-range strategies around a number of financial challenges and needs may revolve around debt exclusions and Proposition 2-½ overrides.

“The first and the biggest thing that we talked about is that the finance commission is recommending that the town council consider an override of Proposition 2-½ to support the school budgets for FY26,” Gorzkowicz said. “The FY25 budget falls short of a needs-based budget, and at this point, it is falling roughly $1.5 million short, that’s even with the $220,000 from free cash to support what a level-service budget would be for the school. That will require some challenges and some tough decisions, but not addressing that is going to lead from tough decisions to bad decisions down the road.”

Gorzkowicz said there are a lot of towns in the state that have been feeling the constraints of Proposition 2-½ and have had overrides.

“Winthrop’s last override was 15 years ago, roughly 2009,” said Gorzkowicz. “There were a number of ARPA and ESSER (Covid relief funds) made available to the town and the school that allowed them to address some of the challenges that otherwise the town council would have had to deal with much earlier, so I think in that respect it is good. But on the other hand, those funds have been depleted and it has been quite some time now since we have taken a really good look at the needs of the school department.”

In addition to preparing for an override, Gorzkowicz said the finance commission recommended that the town manager and finance department continue to focus on efficiencies and exposures in the budget as they have over the past several years.

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