The Advisory Committee met Tuesday, July 28, starting at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall–mainly to understand a disconnect in budgeting before and during the May town meeting. Details had been reviewed by the Capital subcommittee at a meeting the previous Tuesday, July 21. While some events had become known, understandings of them remained murky.
Structural deficit: As adopted at the 2015 annual town meeting, the fiscal 2016 budget had a structural deficit, around $200,000, known to some Brookline employees but withheld from most or all members of boards and committees and from town meeting. At the point of the Advisory Committee’s review July 28, a timeline for some events of the disconnect had become clear:
Late April: Public Works gets only three bids for recycling
Late May: Public Works settles on best bid, $200,000 over budget
May 26: Annual town meeting adopts fiscal 2016 budget
May 28: Annual town meeting completes work and dissolves
June 23: Board of Selectmen approves $1.22 million FY2016 contract
June 23: Board of Selectmen applies for $200,000 from reserve fund
July 7: Advisory Committee approves $200,000 and starts investigation
July 14: Advisory Committee members lodge protest with Board of Selectmen
July 21: Advisory subcomittee conducts special hearing and drafts report
July 28: Advisory Committee holds special review meeting
By late April, at least Andrew Pappastergion, the commissioner of public works, Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, and Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, knew that a structural deficit in the fiscal 2016 budget was likely. Before the end of the annual town meeting, they knew the budget deficit was certain and would be about $200,000.
None of them told any member of the Advisory Committee, which has a legal duty to propose budgets to annual town meetings. Had they done that, the committee could have amended the budget proposed to town meeting, to bring it into balance, or it could have proposed to reconsider the budget, if notified after the budget had already been voted.
It has not been clear whether members of the Board of Selectmen had timely information. No member of the board told any member of the Advisory Committee or told town meeting about it before June. Treatment of protesting committee members at the board’s meeting July 14 looked and sounded disrespectful. However, on July 28 the committee skirted those issues, focusing on information received from town employees.
Explanations: As described in a subcommittee report prepared by Fred Levitan, a Precinct 14 town meeting member, during the May town meeting, Mr. Kleckner was also aware of about $190,000 in extra state aid for Brookline. He failed to inform Advisory Committee members and town meeting about those circumstances as well. Apparently he hoped to use the extra funds somehow to repair the structural deficit.
According to a 20-year “town-school partnership,” that would have been unrealistic. Revenues have to be reviewed by a standing committee and are typically divided between municipal and school accounts. So far, there has been no meeting of the partnership committee to consider changes in fiscal 2016 state aid.
According to Mr. Levitan, Mr. Klecker said not notifying the Advisory Committee was “a mistake.” To many observers, that might not appear likely. Mr. Klecker has about 20 years experience with work similar to his current position–serving four Massachusetts towns, most recently Winchester and Belmont. The same provisions of Massachusetts General Laws have applied to all the towns.
The committee discussed whether to reconsider the contentious $200,000 reserve fund transfer it had approved July 7. That had been an evening when the committee rejected a reserve fund request, the only rejection any member could recall in about ten years. The request approved came on a vote of 12 to 10 and one abstention. With just a single vote cast as No instead of Yes, the $200,000 request would have been rejected on a tie vote.
Following Advisory customs, reconsideration needed a motion from a member who had voted Yes on the $200,000 transfer. If the transfer were reconsidered, it might be voted down and withdrawn. When Sean Lynn-Jones, the committee chair, called for such a motion, there was no response. Most members seemed satisfied such a disconnect would not happen again.
– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 29, 2015
Report from Fred Levitan for Capital subcomittee to Advisory Committee, $200,000 DPW transfer request, Town of Brookline, MA, July 28, 2015
Memorandum from Melvin A. Kleckner, Town Administrator, to Sean Lynn-Jones, Chair, Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, July 13, 2015
Richard Kelliher and James Walsh, Memorandum of understanding: town/school budget partnership, Town of Brookline, MA, May 16, 1995
Board of Selectmen: two boards, changing colors, Brookline Beacon, July 18, 2015
Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button, Brookline Beacon, July 8, 2015
Board of Selectmen: water fees, snubbing the public, Brookline Beacon, June 24, 2015
Advisory Committee: budgets and reconsiderations, Brookline Beacon, May 1, 2015