Over the next few months, I’ll probably write a fair share of stories about the town budget. Before just rambling on and on, I figured it would be worth describing exactly how the budget process works.
First, it is important to note that the Board of Selectmen has all the budgets under its control except one, the Board of Education’s budget, which just happens to be the largest one by far. Last year for example, the Board of Education budget was $42.9 million of the town’s $74.3 million total.
So the Board of Selectmen approves all of the municipal budgets, a process that runs from January to early February (it is already complete). Then the Board of Selectmen sends the budget to the Board of Finance.
At the same time the Board of Education approves its budget, and then sends it to the Board of Finance. Once the Board of Finance receives the budget, the proposal can only be cut, nothing can be added.
Then the Board of Finance goes through every single budget, from the police to the library to public works, in a series of budget hearings that last all of March. Every budget the Board of Finance has complete line item control over, meaning it can cut dollars out of particular funds, except the Board of Education, which is one lump sum.
In other words, the Board of Finance can say the postage budget for the Youth Services Bureau is too high and cut the amount for postage by $50 (this happened last year). However, for the Board of Education, it can only say the bottom line number is good or they can cut the proposal.
The Board of Finance finishes their budget reviews at the end of March, and then it gets sent to the Representative Town Meeting. The RTM then spends three days, starting on the first Monday in May, to review all budgets. Again, like the Board of Finance, the RTM can only cut the proposal, it can’t add.
If the Board of Finance cuts something, the department can appeal the cut to the RTM. Once the RTM approves the budget in May, it becomes final.
Every budget hearing, just like every town meeting period, begins with a public comment section. Almost nobody ever goes to any of the meetings to say anything. If you do think the budgets are too high or too low or even if they are perfect, feel free to go down to one of the meetings and let the boards know.
Anyway, that’s it. I know, terribly boring, but that’s how it works.