April 02, 2020

Pittsfield officials may develop ‘what if’ budget

PITTSFIELD – It looks like Pittsfield municipal officials will be creating a backup plan to their 2007 budget this fall.

Officials said that if the Taxpayer Bill of Rights is passed in November, more than 2 percent of the town’s budget will have to be cut or special voter approval obtained.

“With the cost of living and rising prices, the employees should have a wage increase and the town needs to budget adequately for fuel, [utilities], and other price increases which are coming across the board,” Town Manager Kathryn Ruth said last week.

Therefore, without any increase in programs and services, the budget would rise.

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, is designed to limit increases in state and local government spending. Its formula uses the national rate of inflation plus an area’s change in population to calculate the allowed increase.

To override these limits is a two-step process: First, two-thirds of a governing body – in Pittsfield’s case that would be the Town Council – must approve. Then, a majority of voters must approve at the next general or special election.

Proponents say the measure will curb and control spending while opponents feel local control will be lost and the council’s hands will be tied.

The process of preparing the town’s budget began last month when budget forms and instructions were provided to department heads. Earlier this month, the town manager created a draft revenue budget.

After conferences with each department head, Ruth will compile a completed proposal by late October and councilors will begin the review process by early November.

“For three years, the town had been capped at a budget increase, excluding wages and benefits, of zero percent,” Ruth said in a memo to councilors. “It has been difficult to meet. However, the staff was very supportive and we have been very creative,” she said.

But this year, Ruth said the process will be more complicated since a standard proposal must be created and then a second, more deeply cut budget, must also be prepared.

“It may be advantageous to set a reasonable budget goal to conserve but cover basic needs and also identify a contingency plan of accounts and services to cut if TABOR passes,” Ruth suggested.

The first budget meeting will be held on Nov. 8 and will be a review of the overall budget and a specific review of the administrative budget, which includes the council, town clerk, debt service, assessing, legal, insurance, code enforcement and municipal building.

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