Article 1 Motion A - Changes to the Omnibus Article
Finance Committee Recommendation Vote: Favorable Action 8-6-1
Favorable Action Evans and Pierce - Move to vote the motion as is. Passed 8-6-1
Debate: Our employees need support, they are stressed. This is not perfect, but it is a good compromise.
Favorable Action Coffee and ? - Move to pass with the reduction of the Community Services position for 52K (motion not voted on b/c #1 passed)
Debate: No problem restoring COLAS or other positions. Troubled by many of the things said tonight about having a possible $9M deficit for next year. Every dollar is going to count. Cut this one to add positions that are coming down the road. If the department head didn’t know what it was for, its not the first one that I would fill.
Favorable Action by Delucca and Linehan with the reduction of the most of the positions (note take could not follow the exact list.) (motion not voted on b/c #1 passed)
Debate: We are expecting less development, higher vacancies in retail - both will create a shift in our tax burden and will put more weight on the residential tax base.Without doing anything we are already going to see stresses. Now, we are thinking about adding positions. If there is not an absolute need at this point and time, we can push these off.
New or Upgraded Positions Plus Consulting Hours
As is, this motion is adding 7.5 to 8.5 new positions depending on how you define “new.”
Fin Com members asked Town Administration to avoid the confusion going forward and present information in a more clear manner. They stated that time had been wasted trying to figure out how many FTEs were here and if the salaries were full year or part. The answer was given that most are full time salaries and when filled for a half year, the unused money will be encumbered into FY22.
It was asked multiple times if these positions were in the January budget. Two answers were given: No, they were not. & Yes, they were mentioned in subcommittee meetings but not all brought to the final stages of the full finance committee.
Board of Health - New position - The department is involved in the entire building process, occupancy, and reviews every single building application. In addition, the department is part of land use inspections, ground water from foundations, aquifer management, wastewater & storm - these total 1,000 inspections at least and have grown at exponential rates in the last 5 years. They also do 2 inspections a year for every restaurant in town and 2.5 years ago the department inherited the substance abuse prevention program. All of this and then add covid.
The Community Services Department - new position - The department head reported that because of Covid we have an increasing number of elders in crisis situations and increasing inquiries from family members. She shared that oftentimes these families are also supported by other state agencies but that those agencies are not equipped to go out and provide the level of need during Covid. In addition, we have seen an increase in people trying to access the government benefits. We know that overall families have increased levels of stress and currently have 2 social workers who were handling a full caseload before Covid. This would provide an opportunity to respond to needs of families in Natick and allow for a more senior licensed social worker to join the team and to provide these services.
Police Department - The dispatcher is an existing position, but we would be funding it with Natick revenue instead of state grant. Members agreed this was a prudent thing to do as state funding may indeed be in jeopardy given a recession. The Police Department had one position approved at the start of October and has added an additional in this version. Both are patrol positions and were requested in the January budget.
One Community Development position has moved from 60K to 52K. It was questioned as the Department head did not seem to know what it was for when first presented last week. It was further explained as not a position but rather consultant hours to augment the capacity to tackle important projects - such as planning within the Golden Triangle.
Another Community Development position has been asked for for several years and is listed as a ½ year salary with the hopes to bring someone in to assist the development of projects that get sent to the planning and zoning boards. Right now, no one particular member of the department can cover all of these requests and thus the volunteer boards and our department head have to do extra work with most proposals. This is time that could be better spent were there to be someone to support the projects with full attention.
IT is not considered a new position b/c it is upgrading an existing yet open position so that the department can hire a more experienced person. Consultant hours are also part of the request.
DPW - 2 new laborers (LFNR) It was mentioned that parks are being used more because of Covid and that the rail trail and KMS will be opening soon.
Finance - The intention is to augment a current yet open position in order to hire and retain talent. Also add another position because of the level of demand for reports that is coming from all of the committees. We need people to be able to produce the work that is being asked of us.
Merit pay & CBA
NPS: $1.3M for COLAs also includes COLAs and some merit increases for non-union employees.
Municipal: Non union employees did not have COLAS or merit factored in for FY21. The request is 300K.
Fire, Police patrol, librarians, deputy firefighters: Contract will expire June 30, 2021;
Current Contract COLAs: 3% FY19, 2% FY20, 1%FY 21
Unsettled Unions - DPW (2), Facilities and Clerk - request is 500K in CBA line item
Questions and Answers from the committee:
Q: What is the impact on FY22 if this article passes?
Answer from TA: FY22, depending on the scenario you use, is between 6-7M deficit (assuming state aid down 10%). We feel confident that we have the funds available to fund the town in FY22 with stabilization and various revenues. Town Administration feels very uncomfortable with FY23.
We can run the numbers but when we have a 9M shortfall -an additional 1M will not have that much of an impact. With or without these hires, Natick has some difficult decisions to make in the years ahead... We attempted this with the June 8th budget, demonstrating that as we go through this crisis there are things in town that must increase and confronted with things that must decrease...In November of FY21 or March of FY22 a question will have to be asked or there will be some kind of drastic reduction. At this point, we will not be able to get out of FY23.
We also know there will be a commercial shift from the tax base to residential.
If prudently planned, 15M could cover us for 2 years - and discussion of an operational override could be delayed.
Q: Is the $1.3M for NPS purely COLA or also Merit?
Answer from Superintendent: It is both Cola and Merit, but COLA is the predominant number. Merit is for principles for non represented people. The Chair was sent a document. And shared with the committee. There is $30K included for merit.
Q: Are the positions currently on the personnel pay plan?
Answer from TA: Some are and some not.
Q: How do we fund those that are not?
Answer from TA: Personnel board is scheduled to meet in November - once the funding is there, PB works with TA to fill those positions. By bylaw we can fill positions without the vote of Town Meeting. For example, in the June 8th budget I attempted to use existing money to augment finance department salary. I did talk about that then and I actually don’t need permission from Town Meeting to do something like that. It gives administration the ability to be nimble.
Answer from Personnel Board Chair: Section24 3.4 allows us to add positions with the caveat that it needs to be ratified at the next town meeting. One caution - we can't guarantee the salaries that are budgeted here until we look at the market and put them on the plan.
Q: Could any be added in the spring without impact?
Answer from the TA: From the Municipal perspective, year after year have had to endure no increases before I arrived. It’s really a kick in the teeth if in fact we are going to make investments elsewhere and not do this now for our municipal departments.
Q: Were items considered for these additions across a broad spectrum? I’ve noticed for example that the DPW, even with an increased workload, were not added here. If it's not on this docket, what might be coming up soon? What might have been reviewed and determined.
There will need to be increases and decreases in future departments. Our revenue and expenses lines have crossed. We will need to make choices. There are various articulations of where the town is going and we need planning for things that we see coming down the pipeline. It is paramount that we recognize things are going to change and management has to have the flexibility to respond. These are in no way stagnant or inclusive of everything we need.
Motion 1B - On Changing the Funding Sources within Article One
Favorable Action (Evans, Pierce) passed 15-0-0
This motion is a change in funding sources from the spring town meeting. No money has been added or subtracted from what we voted in the spring.
The benefit is maximizing our tax levy - typically the first thing to be used for operating expenses.
Q: How much excess Tax Levy there is?
Answer from Deputy TA: If Town Meeting this passes Articles 1 and 5 as is, it would leave 70K unappropriated.
The committee agreed to meet again, on Wednesday, October 28th to hear Article 5 regarding stabilization funds.