Sunday, April 5, 2009

Financial Planning Committee - Focus group - Part 1

Observing: Gwen Wilschek, Jim Roche, Deb Bartlett, Rebecca Cameron

First focus group: (long section of the report)

Vincent Dibaggis

Bob McLaughlin

Mike Taylor

Elise Nulton

Caren Lee

Cindy Kozil

Eric Polito

Judy Teixeria

Bill O'Neil

John O'Neill

Facilitator: Doug Hardesty

The session opened with a round of introductions. There is a mix of long timers and some “newbies” to Franklin. Doug explained the committee's purpose to take a longer term look at financial matters, separate what is true from not true, start with same set of facts, and make sure they have provided a chance for citizens to react to the product as it comes together.

Note: Doug's questions and comments as the facilitator will be in bold. All other focus group comments will be in normal type.

Can you understand it in the written form?

This is information never really seen together, the facts are good, also left with a lot of questions.

It's scary that this hasn't been done before.

There was fear in reading this, we moved here because of the school system was good, now that it appears to be going down hill, what will it be like when my kids get there?

We actually have done this years back. This is good info, how are you going to disseminate it? We have a chronic structural problem. What are the next steps?

I am shocked to see how much disproportionately we are dependent upon the state compared to other towns. This raises some concerns that we can do what we think is right but that the state can change and we don't have control.

I think you are on the right track. Franklin had a very low tax base when Prop 2.5 came in. I applaud the committee.

The forecasted deficits are shocking, more than scary it is unbelievable.

I think you have to an override, that is one of your only solutions. The town has been well run. People are going to have to come up with more money.

I don't disagree, without a year long campaign you won't get it passed.

Is there anything in the report that was biased? Or suggestive?

I found it informative. I got halfway through and had to leave to get here. The town has done 5 year plans before, by the time we got to three it was already out of date, not maintained. This needs to be updated each year, for the five years out.

Page 11 – very good looking chart, but some of the bars are not labeled so I am not sure what they are telling me. I found it confusing.

I wasn't quite clear. In terms of State Aid, how is the decision made at the state level, I didn't get it from the report. I have 2 students in the high school, we hear we spend less, we see the testing scores, do we feel that the kids still getting a quality education?

You expect that state aid will go down, as a practical matter with Jim Vallee and his new role, we may not have much of a decrease, time will tell.

We have gotten a lot of state aid with the lottery money and that is down.

What will happen with the stimulus money? We should get a piece of that too.

What is the formula that determines the state aid? Chap 70 is complicated, not a stable figure.

I don't think there is any bias here. I know there will be an executive summary, that we don't have yet. There is a lot of info here, almost too much. The exec summary is separate, would be good to see what that is.

Was there a reaction on what you were reading? One or two pages that jumped out.

The 1.4% for Tri-County should be explained, what do we actually pay 5K or 16K per student to Tri-County?

That line item in the budget deserves more of an explanation.

Page 13 can see the dramatic difference, below the state average.

Page 14 caught my attention, there is a very bad trend going on.

There is nothing in here comparing our tax rate to other towns around. That might be a helpful figure. There is still some internal capacity for an override based upon what we have vs. comparable towns.

What is an example of what the NA category would include?

These numbers are from the State DOE chart. This row is not included in their chart, so this was added to make the numbers total.

Page 5 -What % of the school vs fire, police, etc. relative to the other communities.

Page 4 -Tax levy is from property taxes only.

Page 7 -School salaries are 38% of the total. It looks like the schools are taking more than the 38% of the cuts. It appears that the town put the schools at the bottom. It concerns me that it is an underlying theme that is not visible but it's there.

Also on Page 7, what about the consolidation efforts? There have been efforts to do so. You will hear about the fat issue, where in the report is the town taking credit for that?

It would be helpful to see where those fiscal responsibilities are put into place. We are doing it in small business but how is the town doing. We are all being asked to make sacrifices, it would be good to know what is being done all around.

How has the town done?

For a bunch of volunteers, they have done an excellent job. there will always be a tension between needs and wants, given what we have, we have done well. Would I like to see better, yes, but we have done well.

I think that joint budget committee is positive. You can sit down and look overall at the town, to decide a path to pursue without being too contentious hopefully.

As a point of reference, for the last time there was an override, the entire group Town Council, Administrator, School Committee, everyone was out, working as a unit to spread the word, willingness to cooperate will help. The level of trust goes up when there is agreement amongst the town leaders. When there is agreement amongst the town leaders, then this is in our best interests.

Transparency is a wonderful thing.

I don't think the average resident see that, there is a lot of distrust out there. The override was written for the schools, what will the Town Council do with it? They don't know, so they make assumptions

They don't think Franklin has done much cutting except for the schools because that s all that is seen and heard. What the Town has done is not heard about.

Reading this has been very helpful, not visible to the average resident

What I see are cuts in schools, don't see the town cuts, you see construction, capital being used but you don't see the town being shut down in the center with buildings that can't be finished, services are being cut that are vital, we're paying for the infrastructure.

Several years ago, they repaved Lincoln St, 3-4 months later dug up to put in some sewer lines. Why? Is there anybody watching out for things like that. It was a waste of money.

The other thing that has been talked about, capital money can't be used for operational. But capital for a larger building does require additional operational expenses. Is there a long range, five year plan for capital and roads as well.

In 1989, there were 8-9,000 parcels in town with 3 assessors, and 3 clerks. Now there about 11,000 parcels, 3 professional assessors and one clerk (versus three clerks before) due to automation, other departments have done the same.

The average citizen is feeling the effects, schools are doing more fund raisers, these are tough times. The bus fees are up, athletic fees are up, everyone is paying more for everything, and I've already given the town more in behind the scenes ways.

The more information you give, they can make a decision on that. If they don't have the information, they can hear the rumors, or whatever.

It has to be done in a clear and concise way, there is a short attention span, we are a sound bit society today, trying to convey all the good coupled with all the facts.

Give them the summary, tell him again, in the military way, they won't read it all but they should get it.

The executive summary for those who want the short version, the full report for those who want all the details.

One message, one voice is needed, knocking on doors was effective, that education plan is critical. You have to find various paths to get into the household. The education plan will be critical.

This is MA. Maybe I'm being cynical. The assumption is someone to out to take our money. What do you think of your rep; good guy. What do think of the legislature; pack of thieves.

Get the word out there, concisely available, the easier it is to see, the better they will be able to get it.

That is the watch word, get it out there, get to the various organizations here; sports, school PCCs, senior center. The avg person doesn't have time to come to the open meetings.

If we assume that the Town is fairly well managed, is there an easy way to figure out how we got here?

Is there a more concise way to show that?

It is a structural issue, revenue is capped, expenses even just rising from inflation, 10 years from now it will be worse, one percent is higher than the other. How do you communicate that reality?

Page 4, 5, 17 should be graphs or pie charts to make it easier to read.

Page 21, it says “what can we do about it?”

There is not enough detail here to make a decision, improving process efficiency what does it mean? Other than the library and recreation departments that were in the paper, what else is there?

The committee charge was not to develop the full plan. These are some of the levers that the Town can use to develop the plan. Do we lose credibility when we don't have all the answers?

I read this and went back to the charge two times, to see what it read. This is a transition to the next steps. The plan needs to include us, title – the next step.

I think you did identify the areas. Some of them are going to require some hurdles. Consolidating operations, benefits, public vs private sector, can they come into alignment? That will require negotiations. Someone will say we can't go there. Well, maybe we should.

Is this an action oriented document?

If I were presenting this, I would do the summary, four,/five key slides provide the general understanding, at least those pieces get across before they start tuning out.

You could convey this in a five minute discussion? 90% of the issues

Yes, I would ask more questions, talk to others about this, with people that had opinions.

My colleagues will be able to go with you and answer additional questions.

I think it is great info needs to get out.

I agree, not sure if it is a call to action, this is the problem, not a call in and of itself.

Call to action needs to include the residents.

Need to get this out, some people don't believe us. I still say we will need an override.

Great doc, great info, needs to be consolidated, not everyone will understand, the call to action will be to learn more. This is a good first step.

Great info, requires a longer discussion, would love to go through with a fine tooth comb to really get it clarified, how we got there, dependent upon state aid, people will have some good ideas

I have questions and will be happy to stay after

Having two young kids, the school are a concern, dependency upon the state is an issue. I am not from the area so just coming in not heavily aware of what's going on.

You got to take care of your own, info, concise, get it out, got to look for info other web sites, I am sure you're thinking of that.

I think a lot of work went into this, instead of getting this all at once, do it as a series of articles in the Gazette.

Very eye opening, it will be surprising how many people are not fully aware of the situation that we are in, it is very necessary.

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