Norton Finance Committee Grapples with Budget Increases and Staffing Challenges

The Norton Finance Committee’s meeting on March 18th, 2024, was dominated by rigorous debates over the town’s financial stability, particularly concerning budget increases and staffing challenges across several departments. Members delved into the intricacies of the town’s fiscal planning, expressing concerns about the sustainability of a 7.7% increase in the budget from the previous year and the use of stabilization funds for ongoing expenses. The need for long-term financial planning and the potential impact of union negotiations on the town’s financial obligations were also key points of discussion.

A notable area of concern was the substantial budget increase for the cemetery wages, which saw a 211% rise due to a new union position and increased responsibilities. Similarly, the Council on Aging’s budget was scrutinized due to the addition of a full-time administrative staff person and a full-time program coordinator to address the current understaffing and anticipated demand in the new building.

Discussions also centered on the open position for a town planner, where the committee acknowledged the competitive job market and debated the need for increased pay rates to attract qualified candidates. The acknowledgment of 26 towns looking for planners highlighted the urgency and challenges in filling the position. Meanwhile, the Highway Department’s budget discussion revealed information about staffing levels and the addition of a DPW director, with attention given to rising costs and unexpected expenses such as failing culverts.

The practicality of utilizing a space for the Council on Aging if the town cannot afford to maintain it also sparked debate, with discussions touching upon the disconnect between departmental budgets and the town’s overall financial strategy. The Council on Aging director emphasized the need for additional staff, while concerns were raised about the financial implications of maintaining the old Town Hall, which was initially planned to be demolished.

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Another point of contention was the budgetary process itself, with some members questioning the oversight and advocating for working within budget constraints. This was exemplified by the committee voting against recommending a reserve fund transfer for the Animal Control Officer’s overtime and part-time account.

The Town Clerk’s budget was discussed in the context of the upcoming elections, focusing on increased expenses and the impact of the pandemic on the volume of mail-in ballots. Additionally, the need for extra staffing to manage elections was highlighted.

During the meeting, the Conservation Department’s budget was evaluated, with attention to the maintenance of conservation areas and professional services. The Planning Department’s budget was similarly examined, especially the impact of not having a planner on staff and the reduction in educational assistance expenses.

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The meeting also covered the Veterans Department, addressing expenses, benefits, and oversight, and concluded with the acknowledgment that the existing building originally slated for demolition would now be maintained, leading to a disagreement among members about the initial plans and fund allocation. The meeting was set to conclude with a review of warrant articles at the next meeting, and the meeting minutes were approved before adjournment.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.

Town Administrator:
Michael Yunits
Financial Oversight Board Officials:
Paula Daniels, Frank Joe Parker, Iii, Tracy Mahan, William Rotondi, Bonnie Yezukevich, Stephen Evans, Cody Thompson, Zack Tsilis, Kevin Bugaj, Sandra Ollerhead, Paul J. Schleicher

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