Town Manager, Selectmen Begin Building Case For Override
By: Mary Stanley
"We are at the point of no return. The short term solution can only be an operational override or a reduction in services," Town Manager George H. Dunham told the board of selectmen last night.
Mr. Dunham and selectmen began building their case last night for a Proposition 2 1/2 override. Mr. Dunham, selectmen, and other town officials plan to spend the next several weeks publicly outlining facts about the town's declining financial health.
"The budget we just voted on in May was barely balanced. Despite any major changes that occur over the next 12 months, we are looking at a $2 million deficit next year. If an override is not supported, we'll make the cuts," he told selectmen.
He said there are some things that are just out of the town's control. He said tax revenues generated from new homes or additions are down and state aid has decreased by $1.3 million since 2009.
"That's a huge amount to make up. That's a huge hurdle to get over," he said.
He acknowledged that Sandwich is not alone in such a financial position and said that every town on the Cape has either asked for a Proposition 2 1/2 override or is planning to do so.
"We are far from being alone," he said.
He said although the town has budgeted extremely conservatively and has less staff compared to other towns on the Cape similar in size and population, he is not sure how much longer that can continue.
"We do more with less than others and are proud of our high level of efficiency, but at this point we question our level of effectiveness," he said.
Mr. Dunham said the town's growth in population has had an impact on town services but the town has not been able to match the population growth with staff. According to a 2002 study, he said Sandwich has one staff member for every 142 residents compared to the Cape average of one staff member for every 66 residents.
"I'm not suggesting that we double the size of our staff. I'm just trying to keep what we have," he said.
"The level of staffing has not kept pace with the level of growth," agreed Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Dana P. Barrette.
Mr. Dunham pointed out that a Proposition 2 1/2 override that was passed in 2006 and was expected to last only three years was stretched to carry the town an additional two years.
"I don't want the public to think that anytime we need money we just ask for more," he said.
He credited town workers for helping to stave off an override until now. He said that town employees agreeing to forego salary increase for the past two years played an important role in helping make that override last. He also noted that eliminating the town's more expensive health insurance plan also helped to reduce expenses.
"Assuming all things were equal and state aid came in level funded, we could have gotten by another year," Mr. Dunham said.
Mr. Dunham also credited the board's decision to put money into the town's stabilization account a few years ago knowing that there were going to be difficult financial times ahead. He said he was able to cover a $1.2 million reduction in state aid this year because of that account.
"But that's gone now," he said.
Mr. Barrette said that cutting $2.2 million from next year's budget would require cutting roughly 14 municipal positions.
"The reality is that we can't afford to let our services shrink any more," said selectman Linell M. Grundman.
The Town's Accountant Doreen A.Guild and Director of Assessing Edward L. Childs will give a presentation on the town's revenues at the board's July 22 meeting.