Budget-Making

February 4: The months of February through April are the budget-crunching days for any Massachusetts school system. Belmont is hardly unique in its perennial need to balance increasing service demands against ever limited financial resources. The school system is growing; we anticipate more than fifty new students next school year, if our growth projections are accurate. We seek to replace a twenty-year-old elementary mathematics program with a new series. We need to address existing issues about class size, particularly in our elementary and middle schools.
The Town of Belmont is heavily dependent upon local tax revenues, most of which derive from the single system property tax. There is little industrial or commercial base in Belmont and, therefore, little justification for a commercial tax rate. Right now, our bare-bones school budget for next school year is projected to grow slightly over 4%. The increased revenues available locally are at 1.9%. To balance the budget requires drawing down on “rainy day” reserves, and such draw-downs can only last a year or two before the reserve fund is depleted. Governor Patrick has proposed a significant increase in state aid, but doing so would require substantial increases in state revenue, i.e., higher taxes. Therefore, our preliminary budget will not take the Governor’s proposal into account; we will wait for the Legislature to act before we count additional revenue.
Ultimately, we will balance revenue and expenses. Our hope is that by the time of the Town Meeting budget session the first week of June, we can count on greater state aid to close our gap. In the long view, however, the Town of Belmont will need to consider whether the time has come to begin using the “O” word (Proposition 2 ½ Override).

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