Town Administrator Jay McGrail on October 16 gave the Marion Finance Committee some hope for a smooth and sensible start to the fiscal year 2020 budget season.
The greatest concern for the Finance Committee has always been the timeliness of the school budgets, specifically the Old Rochester Regional school budget since, as FinCom Chairman Peter Winters put it, “It’s hard to make decisions on the other items, you know, until you have those budgets in.”
Winters said the Finance Committee usually receives its department budgets by the end of December, while ORR submits its later in February or March.
McGrail said the timeline for his first ride at the Marion budget rodeo is for all departments to submit their budgets before Christmas, review them with the finance director, and then get them to the FinCom as soon as possible. The schools, he said, should have their budgets to him by February 1, he said.
“That’s better than in the past from what I’ve been told,” said McGrail.
McGrail said he would be a sitting member of the ORR budget subcommittee and work with them under the guidelines of the “two percent” increase.
McGrail then advocated for an additional Department of Public Works position to assist DPW Director David Willet in the management of the roughly 20 capital projects slated for the next three years, representing a cumulative total of “upwards and over $200 million,” McGrail told the committee.
The position would provide another level of management between Willet and the division foremen and the new hire would perform the majority of the project management that the town has historically outsourced to engineering consultants.
“That’s what’s happened in Marion for decades,” said McGrail. “We depend on engineers and project managers… to oversee the projects, and what’s happened is… problems, constantly.”
He described a recent blunder with the County Road water main project that was under the management of a consultant. According to McGrail, when the trenches were backfilled, care was not taken to ensure that the valves would align with the valve keys. The work had to be torn up and redone, he said.
“We had no Town of Marion staff that oversees that project and manages staff,” said McGrail.
Funding for the position could be split three ways among the three DPW departments through savings incurred from fewer staff members than the budget provided and “Water Department efficiencies,” McGrail said.
The bottom line is, according to McGrail, the potential savings from this new position funded at $80,000 annually would be “ridiculous.”
“Makes a lot of sense,” said Baldwin.
McGrail said he also had a plan to save employees and the town 14 percent in healthcare costs by increasing the healthcare deductible from $0 to $250.
“There’s more savings in that 14 percent than if they max out that deductible,” said McGrail.
“Well, thanks for keeping us in the loop of things,” said Winters, “That’s something we haven’t had in the past.”
“It’s refreshing,” said Baldwin.
Also during the meeting, Winters stated that ORR was still running at a deficit of about $200,000, “And there may be a bigger deficit,” he said.
Winters said School Choice numbers have decreased, resulting in a reduction of revenue. Chapter 70 funding has also gone down, he said, and more students are opting to attend private, vocational, or charter schools over ORR.
Winters commented that the FY20 ORR budget should reflect no more than a two percent increase, “And no adds to staff,” he said.
“The overall message,” said Finance Committee member Margie Baldwin, “is we want to keep things at the two percent… [but] we will listen to anybody who has a reasonable case to present otherwise.”
The next meeting of the Marion Finance Committee is scheduled for November 20 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Police Station.
Marion Finance Committee
By Jean Perry