Weston taxpayers have a rare opportunity next Wednesday, April 24, to go to the Annual Town Budget Meeting (affectionately known as the ATBM) and vote on a budget that is actually lower than this year’s budget. This budget was thoughtfully and painstakingly constructed and tweaked by town and school officials, and every portion of it deserves a resounding “Yes” from voters.
Up for approval at the ATBM is a total gross budget of $64,959,719; revenues are expected to offset the budget by about $2.9 million, bringing the total net budget to $62,091,807, an overall 0.24% decrease from the current year.
The two most talked about budget issues this year have been the number of police officers the town should have and the finance board’s decision to reduce the school budget to below current spending.
The Police Department and the Police Commission asked for two additional officers in their 2013-14 budget request, but the Board of Selectman approved only one additional officer. The finance board discussed the possibility of adding the second requested officer back into the budget, but chose not to do so. The main reason was assurances that School Road and the school campus will continue to be covered during the entire school day by a dedicated officer, regardless of how many officers are on the force. The savings in overtime costs an additional officer would create did not offset the additional costs in salary and benefits by nearly enough to make it worthwhile.
The Board of Education approved a school budget that, after adjustments to insurance costs were later made, was essentially flat when compared to this year. The finance board decided to cut an additional $190,000 because, many of the members said, declining enrollment has been far outpacing any reduction in staff.
This cut to the school budget will not negatively affect the extraordinary quality of education Weston children receive. Its effect on class sizes will be negligible — if it affects them at all. The schools have great flexibility in how they can spend the money allocated to them in the budget.
Voters need to pay extra attention this year to the budget approval process because it is a little different than usual because of a new town charter. The ATBM votes on the school, town, capital, and debt service bottom lines.
Then those numbers go to referendum: Taxpayers will vote by machine either immediately after the ATBM, by absentee ballot over the course of the following week, or at a second machine vote opportunity Thursday, May 2. The results of the machine referendum will determine if the budget is approved.
Vote Yes at the ATBM and then make sure to vote Yes again by ballot at the referendum.