How accurate is our down-to-the-dollar budget?

The selectboard was sent a budget yesterday with a note that the upshot of last Tuesday’s changes was to increase the tax rate. This was followed by a call looking to set up a special board meeting next Tuesday to discuss the warrants, budget and town report.
Since we now have a new window of time, and since we now have new fees for July 1, why not revisit the revenue items and increase the expected revenues based on the new prices? On the whole we should see a 5% increase in service charge revenues, which, on a base of $1.2 million in revenue from such charges should produce $60,000 in new revenues.
Bear in mind that the 1.2 million comes from the audit: service charges for government operations (which excludes any charges for water/wastewater/solid waste/Barwood, which are all accounted for separately). Since the fees we changed were largely for the “government operations” part, and since most were raised 10% to 15%, we should see 5%, because a large amount of the 1.2 million comes from ambulance calls, which are regulated differently and which we didn’t touch. So we can’t expect to see $120,000 in new revenue, but $60,000 — why not? Even conservatively, $30,000, moves the needle. So it is an exercise worth doing.
Secondly, we pad the budget by making worst-case assumptions about things like new hires and what health care they will take on, but given the level of precision we present to the voters — down to the dollar — it behooves us to be more candid among those of us with fiduciary responsibility for the town. I would suggest that a list of town employees listed by number, not name, by department with their type of participation in the health care be used to generate the actual projected premium due, the amount the town will pay, and the amount the employee will pay be set up and that be used to check the numbers provided in the budget.
So those are the two pieces of additional work which, if done, will likely turn up amounts that, on the whole, reduce expenses and increase revenues. The work should be added as new tabs in the budget worksheet so we can see that it was done. In next year’s budgeting process, these backup sheets and others like them can be used to test assumptions and feed the final numbers in the master spreadsheet.

Although it has been said that we expect a 1% to 2% miss on the budget, the audit results show we almost always spend more than we budget for, and take in more than we budget for — largely because (a) we cannot predict what funds will come from federal or state governments (b) what private grants we may get which in turn mean we get more and spend more; also (c) underestimating the rise in the grand list has the effect of raising more property tax revenue than planned (d) overestimating the decline in the grand list has the effect of raising more property tax revenue than planned, but still there is no clear and consistent pattern in the relationship between our Fund 10 budget and our Fund 10 audited results save for the fact that we have routinely piled up surpluses that have been salted away in various funds and then used to offset projects or equipment being added to the budget.

Fiscal Year
all #s are
Fund 10 only
Expense budget audited vs budget Revenue budget audited vs budget Surplus as audited revenues less audited expenses

29.9% 44.2%  $782,764

40.0% 33.2%  -$392,849

-9.0% 0.4%  $730,607

-10.4% 20.9% $2,445,823

4.3% 13.0%  $695,851

3.9% 15.6%  $989,666

23.4% 35.6% $1,098,885

2.9% 28.2% $2,400,163

-0.1% 10.2% $1,102,657

0.7% 3.1%  $259,760

-1.7% 8.1% $1,171,067

-3.1% 20.5% $2,909,813

0.4% 3.5%  $381,808

13.7% 18.7%  $638,291

Data taken from TOH Surplus History

It’s perfectly evident to me that we can afford the positions we cut, and that, in fact, the assistant town manager position, which Selectboard after Selectboard has asked you to budget for, has been affordable all along. It’s also plain to me that the price increases on service charges can’t help but to bring in at least 30K, meaning this budget can afford the energy coordinator.

If we had followed my plan for doing the budget — to set the fees during the autumn, then set a desired property tax levy target and a desired target for use of prior surplus, and then done the expense side of the budget we would have had a cleaner, clearer, less contentious process.

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