Wareham officials face tough budget decisions as expenses continue to climb faster than revenue

By Jaime Rebhan | Jan 16, 2013

With expenses stemming from factors out of the town's control and an approximately $1 million difference between what school officials say is needed to fund the schools and what the town can offer, everyone agrees: The only way Wareham is going to get out of its years-long struggle with tumultuous budget cuts is to increase revenue.

But with the residents voicing a resounding "no" at the polls last July when faced with increasing property taxes to fund needs of the School Department, the town is going to have to come up with other options.

Town Administrator Derek Sullivan painted the first picture of the town's budget for next year, fiscal year 2014, during a public hearing of the School Committee, Board of Selectmen, and Finance Committee on Wednesday.

"This is an available-revenue budget," Sullivan explained. "It is not a needs-based budget. It does not satisfy the needs of the schools, and it does not satisfy the needs of the town either."

With a nearly $1.2 million increase in health care, and required increases for payments of debt, for students to attend Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School, for retirement, and for insurance, the town is looking at nearly a $2 million increase in costs next year.

But the town is only looking at an approximately $1.2 million increase in revenue — the money brought in from property taxes, new growth, taxes, licenses, permits, and other sources.

The result was a $777,000 deficit just to keep funding the services that the town currently pays for.

"We don't have a lot of revenue coming in," said Sullivan. "What's been put together is the funding that we have, trying to keep services — not even level services, but trying to keep services."

Sullivan noted that inspectional services fees have been increased this year for the first time since 2005, as have fees for municipal liens, but it just isn't enough.

Sullivan is hoping to fill the gap by saving $450,000 by, among other things, changing the town's healthcare plan, by not adding funds to town savings, not funding a new lease for police cruisers, and by eliminating three full-time positions.

The result puts the town approximately $839,500 in the black, with the $62,000 difference earmarked for the School Department.

"The rest of that money, we put into the school budget," said Sullivan. "I know it's not much, but that's what we had available and what we needed to do."

But Superintendent Dr. Barry Rabinovitch's $28.6 million School Department budget is 7% above last year's $26.7 million budget, and he says that's what the School Department needs in order to keep providing the services it is currently providing.

Of the $28.6 million, $27 million is "net school spending," that is, everything the school district pays for other than transportation. The remaining $1.6 million is for transportation expenses.

School officials attributed the bulk of the budget increase to collective bargaining agreements, supplies and maintenance, and the purchase of textbooks that were not bought this year, when school officials hoped voters would approve a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion — a temporary property tax increase — to fund the books. The effort failed.

The hearing was sparsely attended, but a couple of parents rose to voice concerns.

"I don't think [the school budget] is ambitious at all," said Jamie Pelletier, whose daughter attends Upper Cape Tech and whose son attends Minot Forest Elementary.

Pelletier says she struggles each year with the decision of whether to keep her children in the school system. Her 9th-grader ended up at Upper Cape, and Pelletier said she wished that she wasn't forced to weigh the options as a result of the district's dwindling resources.

"I graduated from Wareham High School, and I had an amazing experience," she said.

Even just considering the funding allocated for Wareham's classrooms, a more than $1 million deficit remains between what the School Department says it needs and what the town says it can give.

The conversation quickly turned to the fundamental problem: lack of revenue.

"We have to figure out how to solve this financial problem, and it can't be on the backs of the children. It can't be on the backs of the senior citizens…" said Finance Committee member Frank Heath, who noted that he would not seek a reappointment to the committee out of frustration that "nobody in this town seems to want to sit down and do the hard bargaining that is going to make this down survive and grow into the future."

School Committee Chair Geoff Swett sees Wareham's problem as part of a national trend.

"We cannot afford, any longer, the services that we have come to expect," he said. "That's why we run trillion dollar deficits on a national level."

Despite the grim news, School Committee member Cliff Sylvia was optimistic.

"I hear people talking about the realization that you can't solve a revenue problem on the expense side of the budget," he said. "Wareham is a unique place with unique problems, but for the first time in a long time, I'm hearing a commitment to work together and kind of solve it."

Wareham Week will provide updates as the budget season progresses. Residents will be asked to approve the town's budget at Town Meeting in April.

A presentation of the School Department budget is linked below. More documents will be added as they are obtained.

Comments (21)
Posted by: zinzindorff9 | Jan 17, 2013 15:04

Let's "cut to the chase."  The town needs more revenue. The taxpayers can't help but new business can. Turn West Wareham loose. Give Wallmart the permits it needs now. (Can't afford to wait for a hotel in the future.)

Give McDonalds an "O K" for the 195/cranberry hwy location they desire. Maybe we can still get the TGI Fridays, and Paverna back interested in the Mall. Find out the reasons they turned away. Ditto Costco. It has to have something like a reputation of doing bussiness with the town of Wareham.

"OR" just remain the lovely little town we have now with a fifty percent cutback in services and employees!



Posted by: Andrea Smith | Jan 17, 2013 15:52

zinzindorff9 - You've raised my curiosity? Do you live in West Wareham or some other area of Wareham? Is there a reason why you only suggested West Wareham for business expansion? How about approaching some of the businesses you mentioned and encouraging them to locate along Cranberry Highway, perhaps in the area that is due to be abandoned by Wal-Mart, or the property across from Jordan plaza (now bearing a condemned sign) or some of the other vacant or underutilized properties throughout Wareham?



Posted by: FrustratedinWW | Jan 17, 2013 17:37

yes, I'm curious as well, why West Wareham should be targeted for all this revenue building.  I do agree that we need to raise more revenue and bringing in new businesses isn't such a bad idea, but to concentrate it in one area isn't the best idea...especially when you have an entire highway (rte 28) that has plenty of empty spaces.  I hate to see empty spaces that will eventually be left to fall apart and create yet another eye sore to Wareham. 



Posted by: sadie | Jan 17, 2013 21:45

This is not the first time the elimination of 3 full time positions has been mentioned. It was also mentioned last year I can’t remember exactly when. Mr. Sullivan must know which positions he intends to eliminate. I think it is only fair that he makes public which positions he intends to eliminate so that those town employees have a chance to start looking for other jobs. As I said this was mentioned last year and I know a lot of town employees took note and wondered if it was their job on the line. If someone works for the town they have the right to know if their job is first on the hit list when times get tough.



Posted by: Joe Leggett | Jan 17, 2013 22:34

Sadie, from where I was sitting, I'm pretty sure Mr. Sullivan explained that these three positions are currently vacant/unfilled. In addition to the savings in salaries of not hiring to fill them, there will not be any cost associated with unemployment benefits as no one is getting terminated.



Posted by: sadie | Jan 18, 2013 07:46

Thanks for the clarification Joe. Did he say what positions wouldn't be filled. I think one might be the COA director, another might be Sullivan's old job.



Posted by: Joe Leggett | Jan 18, 2013 08:46

I don't believe he said what positions were being eliminated.

WCTV is quite diligent at covering these meetings and getting them out and online for the public. This one was broadcast live on their Comcast feed, channel 95 I think as well as their live website feed for those that can't make the meetings in person.

 

I don't think they (WCTV and the Town) could make it any more convenient for people to see these meetings for themselves and stay informed.

 

The video of this one is online now and can be found here.....

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGRwj5HyEdY

 

Thanks to those at WCTV!

 



Posted by: Joe Leggett | Jan 18, 2013 09:05

I also would like to add that there were only about 12 or so people that attended this important meeting. That's a pretty sad showing by the residents, tax payers and parents of this Town. I do hope many more were watching from home.



Posted by: zinzindorff9 | Jan 18, 2013 10:36

Andrea, Of course I live in West Wareham and have fought traffic, traffic lights ect; to get to a blighted area of town for thirty years. Fairhavens stores, restuarants and "Wallmart" are a much easier drive and always have been. But route 28 north of Wareham Crossing has remained a blight with cheap commercial land being used for truck parks and gravel storage.

I can well remember the McDonald affair when they desired to build at the 28/195 interchange. The BOS stopped it saying they did not want to spoil the "Gateway" to Wareham and that traffic could not be controlled. Now we have a Makepeace "light" to control traffic and a wider highway. I guess we call that priorities. Folks north and west of downtown need that super Wallmart. The convenience would be dramatic. Why do we have to drive up to Carver and Middleborough on 28 to find restuarants and services. Both a much pleasanter drive than that going the other direction.



Posted by: sadie | Jan 18, 2013 11:05

Joe I turned on channel 95  hoping it would be broadcast, I must have turned it on to early because their was only a commercial and no message saying stay tuned for the meeting. I am disabled so it is difficult for me to attend most meetings, that is why I am so grateful when they put any meeting on TV



Posted by: Joe Leggett | Jan 18, 2013 15:27

Sadie, it's either channel 95 or 97 on Comcast and I'm not sure of the Verizon cable channel.

Keep this link for their live webcast as a back up or if you are away from a TV.

http://www.warehamtv.org/livestream.shtml



Posted by: sadie | Jan 19, 2013 07:55

Thanks Joe : )



Posted by: ChristianFernandes | Jan 19, 2013 09:35

To clear up any confusion on the channels:

 

The Public Channel is where most of the regular shows made by members air. It also houses some out of town shows and some shows by local non-profits like churches. This is Comcat 9, Verizon 30

 

The Education Channel, attempts to have coverage of video that comes out of our schools as well as out of town programs that are educational in nature. It also is the Channel you would go to watch LIVE Gatemen games in the Summer and the replayed games of some of the Varsity and Junior Varsity sports from the school system. If I had more people who wanted to film games, I would air more of them. It is also the channel that you will find LIVE coverage of School Committee Meetings and replays. This is Comcast 97, Verizon 28.

 

The Government Channel is the home of Finance Committee Meeting Replays, Selectmen Meeting LIVE shows and replay shows. The Government Channel is also the place if you don't have internet, you can go to find out what's playing on the public and government channels (channel guides) as well as the our bulletin board that houses town annoucements, town events, and other things the public wishes us to post for a specific amount of time.

 

Selectmen Meetings - Are the only meetings mandated to "LIVE stream" at the time of the live airing.

 

www.warehamtv.org - Main Website

 

http://www.warehamtv.org/livestream.shtml - Live Stream 1 - provides access to what is airing on the public channel, some municipal meetings and anything going on in our studio. Live Stream 2 - Provides access to shoots we have away from the studio.

 

http://www.warehamtv.org/vod/ - Video On Demand, Direct Links to Shows that are put on YouTube at our channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/warehamtv

 

http://www.warehamtv.org/schedule.shtml - Channel Guides - Click on the guide you want to view, to get an up to date web listing.

 

http://www.warehamtv.org/bulletins.shtml - Bulletin Boards - Click on Board Link you want to view to see the bulletins attached to that channel.

 

Hope that helps!



Posted by: Susan A Noonan | Jan 19, 2013 10:28

This should not be a West Wareham versus East Wareham discussion here. Let's throw Onset in there just to mix it up. I have done business in this town for 8 years in all three areas. I am in West Wareham now because that's where the business is. I watched 40% of my sales drive down to the mall when TJ Maxx and Staples and everyone else moved there. I talked to folks and discussed economic development in East Wareham. It's hard to seriously develop anything when the Walmart move is still up in the air, Convenience Stores and plazas look like inner city ghettos, and buildings are condemned and falling down. As far as I remember, that building across from Jordan Plaza has been empty for 18 years. Look how long it took to get the blight that was White Pines razed. It took a murder for people to say, "Wow, maybe there's an issue here." Get a plan together for the entire town to raise revenue, eliminate the disgusting buildings, and take action. It's not going to solve itself.



Posted by: KAREN SPINKS | Jan 19, 2013 16:11

Cranberry Highway is an ugly stretch of highway.  From Home Depot to Buzzards Bay it's uninviting, run down and just plain nasty. There was talk of improvements by the way of trees and sidewalks but that idea met with so much criticism that it seemed to die a natural death. I don't go in that direction any more. Wareham Crossing is clean, attractive, and inviting. I shop there.  I also look for opportunities to go outside of  Wareham for shopping, dining and entertainment. It's tough to find a restaurant in Wareham where everything you touch isn't covered in a film of grease.



Posted by: totellthetruth | Jan 19, 2013 21:13

I'm afraid I have too take exception to your last comments regarding Cranberry Hi-Way and Wareham's Restaurants Karen.

Yes, there are some rather unkempt areas on the Hi-Way there are also some rather attractive businesses and private properties on that same stretch. A.J. Marks,Jordan Plaza, Bennys', Baileys, Lindseys, Water Wizz,just to name a few, are all well maintained properties. Please don't condemn the whole area because of a few "slobs"

  As far as the Restaurants are concerned , You are not only unfairly condemning some really fine restaurants but also the Board of Health Inspector(s) who police these establishments for  sanitary food service and cleanliness. Karen, you always seem so upbeat and positive in your discussions re: our Town. Businesses are already hurting, Why hurt them more?



Posted by: Zephyr | Jan 19, 2013 22:25

Karen, I'm really surprised by your comments regarding Cranberry Highway.  That section of the highway has been through a lot compared to the Wareham Crossing area.  At one point it was the main road to the Cape before 25 was put in.  It's hard to keep up a road that busy.  But there are many fine businesses there.  Have you been to the new Tractor Supply store?  You would be surprised at everything they sell.  You have Midas.  Where else can you get an oil change with tire rotation for $21.99 in Wareham?  And they keep their property neat.  Stop and Shop gas station.  Cheaper than Hess or any place else in Wareham.  Then there is Benny's.  Their business will really pick up once Walmart moves.  You have many fine restaurants as mentioned above.  And you do have many fast food places also.  I know some people don't like them but you will find their parking lots have many cars so there is a need. Those businesses help Wareham financially.  Then you have Sullivan Tire.  Nice people with fair prices.  They will even drive you home if you need to leave your car with them.  And many other businesses that I haven't mentioned. Even though some areas do not  look that appealing, it's no reason to write the whole area off.  I know I haven't.



Posted by: KAREN SPINKS | Jan 20, 2013 11:54

TTTT , Zephyr and everybody else! Sorry,  for my outpouring of negativity. You're both right that there is a lot to offer and I have been grossly unfair to all the businesses who put their hearts and souls into doing a good job.

 



Posted by: zinzindorff9 | Jan 20, 2013 13:59

But back to the original question. Why a three year plus wait for a new, large, great tax paying business to  get permission from a small town government to build in Wareham, and how many other businesses just "pass" on Wareham because of it's town run administrations reputation?



Posted by: justin Beiber | Jan 20, 2013 14:09

 

While Zephyr and TTTT are correct that there are some great businesses on that stretch of Cranberry Highway, Karen's assessment that some portions of the highway are "run down and just plain nasty" is also correct. 



Posted by: Zephyr | Jan 20, 2013 15:41

JB, I think we already agreed with that.



If you wish to comment, please login.