General agreement on capital program funding

  • The Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee met with the town manager and representatives of the Capital Programs Committee and Selectboard Tuesday evening to discuss future funding for capital expenditures. For the Athol Daily News/Greg Vine

  • The Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee met with the town manager and representatives of the Capital Programs Committee and Selectboard Tuesday evening to discuss future funding for capital expenditures. For the Athol Daily News/Greg Vine

  • Funding for capital expenses was discussed Tuesday night at a meeting of Athol’s Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee. Among those in attendance were (left to right) Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, Capital Programs Committee member James Smith, CPC Chair Bob Muzzy, CPC member Linda Oldach and Selectboard Chair Rebecca Bialecki. For the Athol Daily News/Greg Vine

  • Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee Chair Ken Duffy leads Tuesday’s discussion on future funding for the Capital Programs Committee. For the Athol Daily News/Greg Vine

  • Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee Chair Ken Duffy leads Tuesday’s discussion on future funding for the Capital Programs Committee. For the Athol Daily News/Greg Vine

  • Finance and Warrant Advisory Chair Ken Duffy leads Tuesday’s discussion. For the Athol Daily News/Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 1/17/2020 1:33:44 PM

ATHOL — Town Manager Shaun Suhoski and representatives of the Selectboard and Capital Program Committee (CPC) met Tuesday with the Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee to discuss that panel’s recommendations regarding future funding for the CPC. That funding has in recent years become dependent on whatever so-called ‘free cash’ is available from year to year, as certified by the state. Free cash available for the current fiscal year gave the CPC close to $600,000 to spend on capital expenses.

“While that number averages out to be a fairly decent figure year-to-year,” said Finance Committee Chair Ken Duffy, “there are a lot of variations and a lot of ups and downs. The reliance on free cash to support the (annual town meeting) article for capital planning puts the town manager and CPC in a difficult position.”

Duffy pointed out that in the late 1990s and early 2000s upward of a million dollars was available for capital spending while, in fiscal year 2016, that figure was less than $70,000.

“On average,” he said, “the (capital programs) budget has averaged out to be about $453,000 over the last 20 years or so. The first issue we need to address is having a stable baseline figure that the Capital Planning Committee can count on. The second is a known funding source for that baseline figure.

“The fiscal policy of the town recommends two percent of the total operating budget, not including the various enterprise funds, as the baseline funding for expenses for the CPC.

“After review,” Duffy read from FinCom’s written recommendations, “we find this percentage to be inadequate as a baseline funding figure. The FWAC recommends a funding level of four percent for the minimum yearly funding level for capital expenses.”

Duffy said the Finance Committee recommends reaching that level over a two-year period, with an increase to three percent of the operating budget for fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1, and reaching four percent in the following fiscal year.

In addition, Duffy noted the town’s Fiscal Management Policy states the CPC “should” be funded at the two percent level. The Finance Committee recommends changing the wording to say that funding “shall” be set at four percent.

“This will allow capital needs,” said Duffy, “to receive the same commitment in the yearly budget process as public safety and educational needs.”

While the Finance Committee had considered recommending the funding stream for the CPC, Duffy explained, it was ultimately decided to leave that decision in the hands of the town manager.

“I agree in principle,” said Suhoski, “that the CPC shouldn’t be waiting to see what’s left over to do what they need. Can we buy a dump truck this year? Can we replace a 30-year-old fire truck? There are hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure under the roads, in the roads, bridges, equipment that the taxpayers have invested in over 250 years and we have an obligation to maintain it, to keep it safe. So, I do welcome these recommendations.

“Finding the funding stream is the key,” he said.

Duffy also said his committee is recommending an effort be made to increase the balance in the relatively new capital stabilization fund, which currently stands at around $275,000, in order to address any emergency spending that may be necessary in the future.

“If we don’t make some sort of commitment here,” said Duffy, “I think we’re being negligent in not taking care of the infrastructure and the needs of this town, and I don’t think we can do that.”

Monies from the capital stabilization fund can be spent only by a vote of two-thirds of the voters in attendance at a town meeting.

Tuesday’s meeting adjourned with general agreement from all parties — including those members of the CPC in attendance — that the recommendations of the Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee be given serious consideration. It’s likely those proposals will be discussed further during an all-boards meeting scheduled for next Wednesday.


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