By Kathy Lauer-Rago, Paul Trudel, and George J. Dzjuna
Fellow taxpayers and citizens of Franklin: Once again, budget season is upon us in the city of Franklin. We, the members of the city’s finance committee, wanted you to be well informed on where our budget stands this year.
The school board recently presented the city council with its 2019-20 proposed budget on May 7. Knowing budgets in our city are always very tight, to our amazement the school board presented and voted in favor of a massive budget-busting, tax-cap-breaking $2.5 million increase. Now we could have understood such a large increase if it was connected to a massive increase in student population. But, in fact, student enrollment continues to fall. Our student population has declined steadily since 2006, bringing the current number to 951. If the school board had passed a tax cap budget for this year, it would have been $14.5 million, which is higher than their budget five years ago when the population was 1,200 students.
So we have to also ask the school board if there was any consideration for the city’s taxpayers when approving their requested budget that would increase property tax increases for all of us by 20%? These massive increases hark back to the 1980s, when such massive increases sparked a taxpayer revolution that led to our tax cap. Let us also remember that their budget included salary increases for 200 employees and approved the continued funding of four Project AWARE positions that were previously funded by a now-expired federal grant to the sum of an additional $450,000 – again shifting more federal programs to the city’s taxpayers.
In summary, as required by the city charter (Article C-32), our combined city budget must come in within the tax cap. While the school board is responsible for the administration of the school district (Article C-5 and 82-1 of the city charter), the city council is responsible to the taxpayers of Franklin to spend your money wisely.
We believe that our ultimate responsibility is to ensure that both the city and the school district receive sufficient funding to operate within their financial means without breaking the tax cap and placing additional burdens on our taxpayers.
At the May 13 city council meeting, where the city manager presented the city’s tax cap budget, as mandated by the city charter, it was clear that the district’s budget must be no more than $14.5 million, excluding federal grant funds, and the city budget no more than $12 million for a combined municipal budget of $26.5 million for 2019-20. The result is a 55% to 45% split. The public hearing on the 2019-20 budget will be on June 3 at 6 p.m.
(Kathy Lauer-Rago, Paul Trudel and George J. Dzjuna serve on the Franklin City Council.)