Commentary: Selectboard’s adjustments to proposed budget explained

No matter whether you voted in favor or against the town budget on March 7, we can all agree and celebrate the fact that the close vote was a great demonstration of the power of democracy, and that every vote really does count.

Since the defeat of the town budget on March 7, the selectboard has overseen a reduction of budgeted expenses by $150,195 (5.12 percent) and an increase in non-tax revenue by $11,000. Additionally, the Library Board of Trustees voluntarily reduced its budget (which was approved on March 7) by $4,688, which will contribute to the reduction of the tax burden on town residents.

The reduction of expenses was achieved with the help of town committees, departments and interested residents — and the selectboard would like to express its gratitude to all those who participated in this effort.

Reductions were achieved in 28 separate line items within 14 categories or departments. Additionally, and importantly, the senior center has begun to pivot to look at opportunities for generating new non-tax revenues, which will help reduce the reliance on the property tax.

Of particular note, two categories of expenditures affecting employee compensation were included in the budget reduction: (1) the standard 2-3 percent annual raise provided for in the Salary Administration Policy was eliminated for fiscal year 2024 (i.e., July 1, 2023-June 30, 2024); and (2) the town’s support of employees’ health insurance was reduced by $20,000 for fiscal year 2024.

With regard to the elimination of the annual raise — the selectboard felt this was appropriate under the circumstances and in consideration of the pay adjustments that were implemented during the past two fiscal years, based on recommendations from Gallagher, Flynn & Co., and the Library Board of Trustees agreed to eliminate the annual raise for library employees as well. In contrast, the selectboard did not feel it was appropriate to reduce the cost-of-living adjustment for employees; although the cost-of-living adjustment is substantial at 7.5 percent, it is based on a widely used metric, the Consumer Price Index, and it reflects the real inflation that occurred during the past year.

With regard to the reduction to health insurance — this is envisioned as the first phase of a two- or three-year process that will pare town support to just covering employees; employees who want to cover their partners and families would be responsible for paying for the difference. The exact way this will be implemented is still to be determined; to that end, the selectboard plans on convening a working group to make recommendations to the selectboard.

The reduction of the expense budget by $150,195 represents a 5.12 percent decrease from the budget that was voted on March 7; significant cuts were also made prior to putting the budget in front of voters. With the increase of $11,000 in the revenue budget, the amount to be raised by taxes has been reduced by 12.05 percent from the budget that was voted on March 7.

The selectboard feels the resulting budget is consistent with the town’s goals and values. We believe that addressing the town’s various needs requires balancing competing goals. We feel this budget provides an appropriate balance, and we urge voters to support the budget on May 2.

(James Faulkner is chair of the Charlotte Selectboard.)