Tales from the BudComm – that single word is exploitable.

by Skip

BudgetAnd that word is “contract”.  First issue is in this area – RSA 40:13:

IX. (a) “Operating budget” as used in this subdivision means “budget,” as defined in RSA 32:3, III, exclusive of “special warrant articles,” as defined in RSA 32:3, VI, and exclusive of other appropriations voted separately.
(b) “Default budget’‘ as used in this subdivision means the amount of the same appropriations as contained in the operating budget authorized for the previous year, reduced and increased, as the case may be, by debt service, contracts, and other obligations previously incurred or mandated by law, and reduced by one-time expenditures contained in the operating budget. For the purposes of this paragraph, one-time expenditures shall be appropriations not likely to recur in the succeeding budget, as determined by the governing body, unless the provisions of RSA 40:14-b are adopted, of the local political subdivision.

It seems innocuous, doesn’t it? There are a number of issues with this word, contract, and how it plays into not only the Default Budget (which, in SB2 governed towns, it is the budget that gets put into place if the PROPOSED budget is shot down in flames when the townfolk vote after the Deliberative Session.  This has happened a few times in my hamlet – mostly on the School Board side of things.  Well, Contracts may drag things down again.

Part of what we discusses during the budget season is the makeup of the default budgets and the existence of current contracts signed and put into force BEFORE the townfolk vote on the budget get added to the Default Budget.  Contracts signed AFTER the vote are not supposed to be included (see language, above). This is important because it can sometimes “force” a vote for the new budget as the Default Budget is larger (who wants to vote to take more money out of their own pockets?).

Well, during the time of examining the School’s District-wide sub-budget, it came up that the head custodian / facilities manager had gotten a real good deal from Irving Energy for heating oil over the previous year – I had thanked him for that during the subcommittee meeting and when we gave our report to the full BudComm (when I congratulated him again).  Remember this point.

Well, in going over the Default Budget, the Chair took the District to task for the construction of the default budget (a bulldog – he does his homework!) and the topic of contracts came up again.  Back and forth, back and forth – and then Scott Isabelle (Asst Superintendent, Business Mgr) stated that the Irving Energy was signed BEFORE the vote back in March and therefore should be included in the Default Budget.

Alarm bells went off in my head – that wasn’t true as I had been told that the contract wasn’t signed until well after the vote and I brought that up at that point.  I actually had it confirmed at that point again for the purpose of the default budget, that amount (not a small amount of taxpayer money I might add) should not be included in the Default Budget.

This matters, in fact it matters a LOT, as there have been times when Default Budgets has been HIGHER than the new one being proposed for the next year.  We always took them at their word that things were above board. This time, it wasn’t and we hammered Isabelle over and over simply because I KNEW, from leading that subcommittee, that what he had stated was untrue.  This meant that the Default Budget was bloated to some degree as yet unknown.  We now knew that the Irving contract was bogusly put into the D.B but what else was in there that shouldn’t be?

The BudComm Chair immediately demanded that he be given copies of ALL contracts – it was clear that Trust at that very moment had been broken (and as of tonite, he hadn’t finished going through the large box full of contracts that was delivered last Thursday) and that there now was concern that other things had been snuck into that Default Budget that shouldn’t exist.

And the School District has no one to blame but themselves.  It will be “interesting” to see how this plays out.

There’s also another troubling aspect to “contract” that should be concerning all Budget Committees and taxpayers, but that will be for another time.

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  • Bryan W

    You have it easier now then when I was on my town’s budget committee. At the time, the School District took the power to create the default budget on itself, with no review. I believe the law has since changed. (Ed?)

    There are a couple of remedies we suggested, and you could tell by the amount of shifting & squirming in the chairs and screaming by the School Board Rep how close to the mark we were getting. One suggestion was to separate out these important line items into separate funds – say for Utility costs, or supplies. That way, those funds can be monitored separately & cannot be shifted around. We saw a windfall one year when we had a mild winter, the heat line was maybe 60% spent, and the school board proceeded to spend it on other things, rather than return any of it to the taxpayers.

    We made the point to all present that – as you pointed out – this is about trust. If we can’t trust what you (the school board) tell us, or we believe that you won’t do the right thing by the taxpayers, then we have to put controls on the money using every vehicle in our power. Breaking out large line items into warrant articles and reserve funds seems like one way to put control on an out-of-control system.

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