Members of the Select Board:
I was encouraged to hear at Tuesday’s January 13 meeting that you will be reviewing policy and procedures for budget preparation and presentation at the start of the FY22 budget round. I have always felt that budget article 3 on the Annual Town Meeting warrant worked against the town’s interest, whether from the voters’ exhaustion of having to review, often at the last minute for them, hundreds of items or how the town’s budget was being managed in terms of efficiency and priorities.
If, indeed, budgets could be created as Alice and Dave recommended at Tuesday’s meeting, based on annual projections of need for each department as a whole, not only would that make it more efficient for departments to manage their budget as they saw fit, as long as they did not exceed the budget allocated, but it would also enable better projections and budget planning as a whole. It also means that votes could be taken for a department's budget as a whole, unless there are questions on individual items in a departmental budget not explained on the accompanying sheet.
For instance (and this comes from my one experience of serving on a town committee), the Historic Commission has a specific charge mandated by the State. It is humungous, covering the documentation of all of the town’s material history, not just of buildings over 50 years old but every site and structure, such as cemeteries, bridges, stone walls, mills, etc. Attempting to tackle the whole at once causes paralysis and non-action, as I discovered. If the Historical Commission could project a working plan each year (like documenting the nine Heath schoolrooms) which it felt it could accomplish with volunteer support, it could then submit an appropriate budget for the year based on actual projected costs. Had such a practice been in place, Heather Hathwell would not have needed to apply for a line item on the town warrant for costs incurred in attending a Massachusetts Historic Commission meeting, and it would encourage departments to actively help the Finance Committee by presenting their entire budget for the year.
I therefore welcome the opportunity being presented for the Select Board and Finance Committee to review the matter as a whole, and look forward to a Warrant Article 3 at our next Annual Meeting that would reflect a much better way of budget preparation and presentation.
Margaret H. Freeman
cc. Finance Committee