Monday, April 6, 2009

Financial Planning Committee - Focus Group - Part 2

These are the notes from the second session of the Focus Group held Thursday night by the Financial Planning Committee. The first session was spent reviewing the detailed 30-odd page report. This session covered the Executive Summary (approx. 10 pages). This session you won't read about in the Milford Daily News.

The same conventions mentioned for the first session are used here.

Second session – Focus Group

Financial Planning Committee - observers (Gwen Wilschek, Matt Kelly, Jim Roche, Rebecca Cameron)

Facilitator - Doug Hardesty

Focus Group participants (note, I tried to come close to spelling your name correctly based upon the round of introductions. If there are mis-spellings, please let me know and I will correct them.)

Tom Duval (?)

Ramsey Kurdy (?)

Kaitlyn Cronin

Sara Lawrence

Liz Kennedy

Louis Landry

Joe Cappels (?)

Jim Schliefke

Jean Silba (?)

Mark Scurella (?)

Doug's opening comments -

Good honest, unbiased information on where we are and outlook for next 5 years

Come to the table with the same set of facts.

How to digest all that we hear and come to a conclusion.

What are your 2 or 3 key takeaways or messages?

As we all know, the expenses of the Town have outpaced the aid from the state. We have to figure out a way to bring them closer together. That's the main gist of this.

I agree, then add that “gee we are getting an extraordinary value for what we are getting.”

I have to say I am shocked by the amount of state aid we get compared to our peers.

That is also disconcerting, it is a risk, what happens next year or year after? What is the strategy, what are our other options?

I can remember a long time ago, when my son was very young, Jim Vallee said this (the state revenue) is great but at some point we are going to have to pay our fair share. My son was 18 months old and Jim was saying this is going to be a problem, now my son is 17.

Five years ago, no one wanted to burst the bubble, we started taking from the stabilization instead of looking at the discrepancy.

We are efficient with what we do have, how do we increase, we are limited by prop 2.5.

What if we raised the commercial tax a buck? Doesn't that mean only that our residential tax goes down a buck? There isn't really an increase overall.

We have a single tax rate, not a split tax rate. We did comparisons carefully to ensure we were comparing apples to apples not apples to oranges.

When I look at some of these towns, Medfield, look at, Natick, Foxboro.

I can't imagine all of these towns have the same amount of corporate taxes as we have.

We picked towns with single tax rate, took into account the mix, tried to get clear peer comparisons.

Are towns with dual tax rates, in the same circumstances?

I think it might be good to point out you still get the same amount of revenue. It can't increase it more than 2.5%

There are people in this town that are facing a decision about staying here or not.

Consider the split tax, as one of the options? Exploring. The answer might be no. If we did that and lost EMC that would be a consideration.

Do the due diligence.

Page 2 - Spending levels are low. Look at the debt and when it will be paid off, compare the debt service. I'd like to see that compared to the other towns. Is that part and parcel to the debt. We have built the Senior ctr, two fire stations, schools, when is that being paid off, will that free up some cash for future use?

Did you have a reaction as you went through this? What was it?

The projections for 2014, that more than anything drives home that something needs to be done

The one that jumped out at me was the 31 percent contribution, that is a concern.

When we see the school deficit at 3.5 million, is there a town side, why don't we see that?

Teacher population relatively young, income rises quicker. Teachers required to get masters within five years. State wide, nation wide teacher salaries will increase at a faster rate.

Can we clarify pension costs esp. on the teacher side? What surprised me was the lack of surprises, kudos to those who have been saying this for years, to me, it is nothing new.

The pensions for the teachers are self funding, the town does not pay towards teacher pensions. I know that last year some town leaders said otherwise and that is not true.

Well then, why did the article last week talk about the teacher who would be retiring and complaining about not getting 2,000?

You get your pension determined by the last three years of your salary, and then you get 80% of that. So if she took the freeze for one year, she would lose that amount for the rest of her life.

That article was not well reported, you can't only read the newspaper.

I had to read the article three times to understand it.

For many years I only lived and slept here, never read the Gazette, checked out the pictures to see if there was someone I knew, never recognized anyone. I read the Globe but there is very little coverage in the Globe. I just started reading the Gazette to find out if they are going to take away full day kindergarten. Talk to another reporter at the Globe, maybe you will pick up a different set of people in the Globe to spread the word.

Do you feel this is accurate and unbiased?

I think you can. Nothing here surprises me, I have been waiting for this for 20 years. This is an excellent document. I don't know how to get people to read it, or to just ask one more question. They seem set, angry about some one thing. I don't know how to get passed that.

As an example. Jefferson/Remington, when it was opening, we sent out 1000 letters to pre-school parents, one person came. We tried to get the Globe, they wouldn't come. How do you get people to have the conversation?

That is a problem, I don't know where people are getting their information. My perspective is relatively uninformed. The “found money” is coming back to bite us, the numbers appear to conflict.

Where has this document been? Should it not be mailed to every home every week? I'll take it myself, forget giving it to the post office. I think it is really important to get this.

Should we have their mother sign off?

They should!

What are the next steps?

The goal of the exec summary is to not have to read the 30 page report. The goal is to get the right information into the hands of the citizens. We have a community forum planned for April 27th. It is not realistic that even if we get in it to every hand, that they will read it understand.

I would really consider mailing it to every home. There is a certain segment of the population that are not given the facts.

And understanding what the implications are of this, we say it at a high level, but what are the specifics?

We are up to the part of solving the problem. We haven't done that. It is clear that we need to take action. The last page gets into these are the some of the levers we have at our disposal. Does it appear that we are advocating or downplaying?

You are downplaying the override. That is fine. It is the last item on the page, we need to explore it.

We always seem to go through the steps before we have the override. The steps don't get us to where we need to be, so the override comes up. It seems like we go through the steps,

I had a good assessment, it increased and the taxes went up, override raised more (I voted for it), and the taxes went up again. Then you cried wolf again for another override. I didn't vote for that one. I wanted to see how it played out. I don't have kids in the schools. We give the impression that this is what it is.

The high school seemed it was like a huge debacle, you couldn't get a decent contractor, or you got the highest priced one. The library is falling apart, they are trying to fix it but it is fallen down. Every year here, you have asked for more money.

Never gets done, keeps sucking the tax payers dry.

That is the perception. In the area of Franklin that I live, there are houses going up every where, McMansions everywhere with families, there are houses that weren't here 9 years ago, how are you not getting more money? A lot of people in those homes don't have eight kids, they have one child, maybe.

I actually wrote that down, has the infrastructure has been surpassed by the growth of the Town?

They haven't increased to support those new neighborhoods. There are more roads to plow, more trash to pick up, don't need police to go there, no gangs there. I could be naive.

There is gap between what we see and what we are being told related to finances. What are the What are the horror stories you hear and see.

Everything in the schools has been getting cut three years in a row, the town side of the budget is mismanaged. It seems like the town has made the choice to invest in the town, not the schools.

The town gets to set the budget and they have made the choice to invest in the capital and not in the schools, that is a choice. People see the new buildings and don't understand the difference between the capital and operations.

The newspaper doesn't help. We are loosing 60 teachers and then the paper says we have a million dollars of “free cash”. Doesn't make sense. Using stabilization funds for re-curring cost before set precedent. Perception is that the town is always finding money. It is very hard to understand, extremely complicated for the average person to understand the process, very hard.

We are below everyone, those are real numbers, they are not made up.

A few years ago, there was an override and it all went down in flames. Yet they went ahead to buy a special ed van to provide the support for the kids. It was cheaper than going out for the service. We get a great bang for our buck but the rubber band is going to snap. I don't know how we are going to do it without raising tax. This has been happening since 2000. While other towns are cutting fat, we are cutting hearts and lungs.

In bigger numbers we have to come out and ask questions. Then if you vote, no that is your right. I just don't know how we get the folks to understand and ask the questions.

I think this is a good first step, look at the tax base, we are going to have to consider this

Everyone in the room has a question. Do you think given what is in the executive summary, people are going to be able to make a decision?

You need to explain capital versus operations.

The dual tax would come up, capital versus operations will come up.

I look in the Gazette and see this listing of great things for the Seniors to do. Seniors going by bus to Foxwoods for 4 bucks. How does that happen? Rather than spending town money to have my kid in a class with less than 30 kids? And my mother told me that most senior centers get grants to fund that, so I shouldn't pick on the seniors. Duh, grants and not Town spending. So you need to explain the grants. It's a perception thing.

I have young children coming into the school system. You can't set 'us versus them', those with kids vs without, these are two of the more vocal camps.

I was at a kindergarten registration session. A mother came in with six kids and said 'I am not giving this town another red cent'. I don't know how she comes to that.

I have a question: on Page 5, when I add 31 and 45, what makes up the other percents? Where is the rest of the money?

On Page 6, the school spending per pupil by town and the state average. The Globe did this, with the 31 towns in comparison to the other towns. I still have it and should have brought it.

On the next page, Page 7, does it or does it not include state subsidies? (in the state minimum spending).

I don't believe it is looking to the source, it is simply looking at the total spend.

On Page 8, I am not a big fan of rankings anyway, it says, our ranking is likely to fall, well other towns are in the same situation, so it may not really change a whole lot.

Is there a perspective that we are missing?

It always comes to the bottom line, schools, you're not going to change anybody's mind. There is more accuracy in the annual Town report than this. There is a copy on the desk down by the door. Pick one up. It is good reading.

Make due with what you have, you got to spend within your means. Franklin should be run like a business, they never did and never will, so it is cut, cut, cut. They have had enough of taxes, enough of spending, they have had it. If the job is hundred thousand, take a cut, if they don't like it, have them go elsewhere. Can't take a 15% cut in pay, go elsewhere, businesses are doing that out there.

They should look at salary structure in Franklin vs other towns. You know that Franklin is much more higher than some of these other towns. I am just saying from what you hear out there. From what you hear, get the town report and see how ridiculous it is

One of the first things that struck me was one of the last things you say on Page 9; “our forecasts excludes certain future costs” I understand why you need to say that but will anyone of those blow up and destroy what we have done in this report? By 2014 with projected expenses, by 2014 with the high school something should have been done, what does that do to the numbers? It is concerning.

There were somethings we couldn't do the forecast for when it would hit. We do need to look at the precision in the numbers. Even if we take draconian measures and cut, cut, cut, there is still a structural issue. The basic economic of 2.5% revenue and inflation without waste, it doesn't work. Does it matter?

We already pay enough taxes, it doesn't matter, you can't ask, people can't afford it. The way the economy is.

Franklin probably will change then: how? Where? When?

I really like living here. It is a nice place, I hope as a community we can figure it out.

People that are working for the town and schools are killing themselves. They are giving a lot. That is a part I wish was recognized more. I just wish it was.

I understand but every community is in the same boat.

I know, our plane is a little lower than the other's. You can only do so much with what you have.

You should be very thankful you don't live in NY. It is so much more expensive there. My father pours over the Town report, “How do you do it with that?” he asks.

I know someone with a little garrison, $6,000 in taxes. Yet they come in to take the trash out of the garage and put the barrels back.

You mentioned what we can do? The last six bullet points. You said the committee hadn't been charged with figuring those out. Do you know if there is a phase that would figure it out before asking for an override?

Town council meeting is on April 15th

The community forum is on April 27th

Could you provide a short summary of your final comments?

I think we are all in this together, we have to approach it from that stand point.

I agree, everyone needs to be open minded and ask one more question.

I think our town needs to look at this at the community as a whole, I think there are parts of the town that look at one department or the other, there is a perception of that, starting from the top,

You mentioned leadership, from the School Committee, to the Town Council, they need to get this information as widely dispersed as possible so people can make an informed decision, whether it is an override or not, get the information out there so people can make an informed decision.

Communication is key, I have had my head in the sand for a long time, once you begin to look at it, it is really bad. You can't see any other way other than to chip it. I hear that there is a Calculus class with 35 kids. I can't fathom how anyone can learn Calculus in a class that size.

I would just hope people come to this with an open mind. There are some huge divisions in this town. I have lived elsewhere and this is segregated, us and them, not seen elsewhere, not a good feeling, we picked here out of every town surrounding.

With all the issues that Franklin has, it does come down to school, it is a big part of town,we are talking of the future of this town, it drives the property values, if we don't come together now and fix it, we are talking of the future of the town.

They said it all!

Doug thanked all for their participation and feedback!

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