Tonight is a big night for the town’s upcoming 2013-14 budget discussions.
Indeed, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kate Carter will unveil her budget request to the school board at Timothy Edwards School at 7 p.m.
The school board is not expected to discuss Carter’s presentation. Carter, however, has indicated that this year will not be like the past two years, when she came in with lower-than-expected budgets. Those budgets were eventually approved by the Town Council without any reductions.
In an interview over the summer, Carter said that the two straight cut-less budgets - in 2010-11 and 2011-12 - were, to her knowledge, unprecedented.
This year, however, Carter has indicated that contractual obligations and special education costs will likely require spending increases in this year’s budget that are more than the past two years.
At the same time tomorrow night at Town Hall, Chief of Police Matthew Reed will reveal the budget request for the police department.
In a telephone interview Monday afternoon, Reed said that there won’t be any surprises, as he and other department heads were told to come in with “zero” spending increases.
For the police department, that means that Reed’s spending request will remain at about $5.56 million. Still, Reed said that even though the spending request remains the same, reductions still had to be made.
Specifically, Reed said that he had to cut about $130,000 from the 2013-14 budget in the areas of training, equipment and other programs because of contractual wage increases.
While the 2013-14 budget cycle is expected to be a challenging one, Reed countered that “It’s never been a good budget year.”
What Reed said that he finds more “frustrating” is the cessation of spending four months into the budget year. Reed was referring to the spending freeze that required all town departments to, among other things, stop hiring new employees. Reed said that while the Town Council granted an exemption for two dispatchers and two police officers, he was told later to discontinue hiring the two police officers.
“You plan training and purchases based on that money spread out over a period of months,” Reed said. “To say ‘Stop spending money,’ that is what is frustrating and challenging.”
Reed said that he was not lashing out or venting his frustration out of anger, but rather was explaining the difficulty as a manager to properly plan from a budgetary perspective.
“Our mission is twofold: to meet the needs of the particular department, but at same time be fiscally responsible,” Reed said. “We understand if council or the town manager says ‘Stop spending.’”
What’s more, Reed said that he has always received support from the town council if he has ever needed anything from it. Still, the police department is at the tail-end of completing two major projects: the regional animal control center and the dispatch communications center.
The spending freeze is preventing putting the final touches on both of those projects.
“It doesn’t hinder the operations,” Reed said. “If I really needed something, all I have to do is ask. But we’d like to get these projects behind us so we can say, ‘OK, what’s next.’ It stretches things out longer than they need to be. But health care costs and other things are absolutes and we have to make sure that that money exists. … I’m thankful for the cooperation that we get. … It doesn’t make it any less frustrating.”
Indeed, the challenge, according to Reed, is that the police department is budgeted for 43 members, though there are only currently 38 active officers.
That has required the police department to pull back on some services, including shutting down the substation at the Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk, sparingly using motorcycles and stopping the use of bicycles and the Segway altogether.