Town Administrator clarifies: One override possible to cover several years

As the Finance Committee begins planning for fiscal year 2025, Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer said he and Finance Director Aleesha Nunley Benjamin are working on a three-to-five-year budget forecast to calculate a possible general override this May’s Town Meeting.

During a public meeting on Aug. 28, Finance Director Aleesha Nunley Benjamin said the town expects to unveil a detailed multi-year budget presentation in January. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

The multi-year budget and a proposed override are slated for presentation during the State of the Town address in January.

“We’re analyzing different scenarios to better understand the most logical way forward, taking into account various assumptions and financial forecasts,” Kezer told the Marblehead Current on Thursday. “A multi-year budget will offer the public a clearer view of what kind of override could sustain us for several years.”

The proactive start, in part, is in response to Marblehead’s uncertain financial outlook, particularly after a $2.5 million override proposal failed in June. To prepare for FY 2025, the Finance Committee has laid out a detailed plan that includes looking at revenue forecasts, departmental budgets and opportunities for public input, all leading up to the May Town Meeting.

Committee Chair Alec Goolsby in the FinCom’s meeting on Monday described the early planning as an “opportunity to set the stage for the upcoming fiscal year.”

The early start to planning serves a twofold purpose: Firstly, it enables the town to adjust and respond to financial constraints more effectively. Secondly, it gives residents ample time to understand the complexities of the budgeting process.

“To build credibility for what you’re asking, it’s important to clearly explain how municipal finance works and why additional funds are needed,” Kezer said. “In Marblehead, the community has been quite generous regarding capital spending, but the operating budget has been under pressure. People need to understand that there is a difference between operating budgets and capital budgets.”

One common argument against increasing the budget through a general override is that the tax increase would be permanent.

“But the response to that is, yes, because it’s covering the permanent costs,” said Kezer. “Yes, police departments, fire departments, public works. Supporting the finance department, all those things are ongoing, every year — so it’s really educating the public.”

During the Finance Committee meeting, Nunley Benjamin said the focus of the budget presentation would be on securing a long-term override rather than a one-year fix. She noted that the Select Board would collaborate closely with various departments in shaping the three-to-five-year financial forecast. To enhance transparency, the town plans to implement a new cloud-based financial software, ClearGov, in this budget cycle, making its debut this month.

“This software will provide more insight into spending patterns and allow for improved long-term financial planning,” Kezer said.

Other key dates in the FY 2025 budget process:

– Oct. 11: Revenue forecast finalized and presented to Select Board

– Oct. 16: Budget message sent to departments

– Nov. 13: Department budgets due

– Jan. 24 : State of Town address

– Jan. 28-March 8: Liaison meetings

– Feb. 26-April 1: Committee budget hearings

– April 8: Warrant hearing

– May 6: Town Meeting

In addition to setting the overall schedule, the FinCom approved a $31,319 transfer from its $144,000 reserve fund to the Council on Aging. This allocation will support a new full-time administrative position that had initially been budgeted as part-time.

The committee members expressed interest in reviewing actual revenues and expenditures from recent years as part of their budget evaluation process.

Goolsby concluded Monday’s meeting by stating the early start allows the volunteer committee ample time to prepare for the annual Town Meeting in May. The next Finance Committee meeting is slated for late September.

“It’s going to be another challenging, yet productive year,” Goolsby told fellow members. “I look forward to our next meeting.”

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