By Adam Swift
Town Manager Tony Marino officially presented the Town Council with the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2024 at its meeting on Tuesday night.
The total proposed general fund budget is $59,652,439, an increase of 5 percent over the current fiscal year budget.
In addition to the general fund budget, there is an additional $15.4 million budgeted for self-sustaining revolving and enterprise fund budgets.
The official presentation sets the clock running for a June 13 vote by the council on the final FY24 budget.
While Tuesday night was the official presentation, the work on the FY24 budget has been underway for months.
Last month, the School Committee voted to approve a $36,644,103 million needs-based budget for FY24. The Finance Commission has also been holding meetings on the budget, and will continue to do so on Thursday evenings through the beginning of June, according to Town Council President James Letterie.
Letterie and several other councilors noted that much of the in-depth discussion and examination of the budget figures takes place at those finance commission members, and urged residents to attend the meetings either in person or via Zoom.
The Finance Commission will be making its recommendations on the budget at the June 6 Town Council meeting, prior to the final vote scheduled for June 13.
Town Councilors can make amendments to the budget at either the June 6 or June 13 meetings, but Letterie noted that any proposed addition to the budget would have to be countered by a debit in another area.
Sure to be a big area of debate over the next month and change is the school department budget. The allocation for the school department in the budget presented by Marino is just over $35.1 million.
â€œThe Finance Commission met last Tuesday with Superintendent (Lisa) Howard,â€ said Precinct 3 Councilor Hannah Belcher. â€œShe presented the needs-based budget that was voted on by the School Committee. There was a shift this year on how the school does its budgeting; about 60 percent of the townâ€™s funds were shifted all the way to the school to include their benefits and some administrative costs.
â€œIt was $9.2 million on their end, but they were also given the resources to handle that,â€ Belcher continued.
Belcher also noted that this is the first time in 30 years that the Chapter 70 state funding methodology for school budgets has changed, so there was an increase of just over $1.7 million to Winthrop in Chapter 70 funds.
â€œWeâ€™ve noticed a significant increase in ELL (English language learner) students in our school system that has put a strain on the budget,â€ said Belcher.
Belcher said the money allocated for the school department in the budget presented by the town is $1.5 million short of the needs-based budget approved by the School Committee.
â€œBased on the allocation, for a level-funded budget, that means that the same services and additional mandates, we are $487,000 different,â€ said Belcher.
Letterie said the School Committee always does two budgets, and they will do a needs-based budget because they need to be looking out for the children of the town.
â€œWith that level-services budget, the schools are still a little under a half a million dollars shy of their goal, and Iâ€™m sure the superintendent will work with what she has, they will still have continued meetings with the finance commission, and we will vote on a final budget in the second meeting in June,â€ said Letterie.
Marino noted that the format for the budget this year is a little different than in past years.
â€œThis is a Governorâ€™s Finance and Officers Association (GFOA) for the budget,â€ said Marino.
Letterie said he appreciated the new format and its detailing of budget information. â€œOverall, itâ€™s like every other year, itâ€™s a challenge, you have to try to fit a round peg into a square hole sometimes but I thank you on behalf of the council for submitting a document that is worthy of the town and worthy of the effort that you put in,â€ said Letterie.