Balanced Budget Rests on ORR Assessment

            The Marion Finance Committee met with Town Administrator Jay McGrail on January 15 for an update on progress toward a balanced fiscal year 2021 budget, which McGrail said is still off by roughly $100,000-$150,000.

            McGrail said a prior shortfall of $300,000 in December is “pretty common for that time of year” in the preliminary stages of the budget-building process, but reducing the rest of the deficit “[depends] on how ORR swings,” he said.

            The budget timeline McGrail set weeks ago has so far been on track, said McGrail, after having met with all department heads to review their preliminary budget requests with just the library and the fire department remaining.

            McGrail has asked each department to submit a level-service budget for FY21 with any additional requests listed separately.

            “To be honest, it’s been a good process,” said McGrail. “We’ve cut already significantly from department… budgets to be able to get where we’re at today,” which included a number of eliminations in requests for additional staff, overtime, new programs, and some one-time funding requests.

            “We combed through requests to get down to what can afford,” said McGrail. “We’re not too far off from being able to submit a balanced budget to you guys.”

            McGrail reported that the town has $1.9 million in certified free cash at this time, an amount that Finance Committee Chairman Peter Winters said was “about average;” however, the town has been striving to rely less on free cash to fund the budget each year.

            “The last piece is really dealing with these last few departments and getting a final ORR number and that would complete our side of it (the budget preparation),” said McGrail.

            McGrail said he would submit the FY21 budget to the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen on January 30 and publically present it to the selectmen during their February 4 meeting with a February 5 FinCom meeting to follow. Soon after, McGrail said department heads from the Fire, Police, and Facilities Departments would make their presentations to the Board of Selectmen and the FinCom, hopefully during one meeting rather than two.

            McGrail was most excited about not having to propose any overrides to voters at this year’s Annual Town Meeting.

            “That’s pretty dramatically different than last year,” said McGrail. “I think that residents should be happy to hear that.”

            “We certainly want to see a growth rate of 2 percent – or under would be better,” said Winters. “Just because we can afford it doesn’t mean we should spend the money.”

            McGrail said the budget was currently at about 3 percent.

            “The final [ORR] assessment number will determine where that goes,” said McGrail.

            The next meeting of the Marion Finance Committee is scheduled for February 5 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.

Marion Finance Committee

By Jean Perry

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