Every tax is a pay cut. Every tax cut is a pay raise.
Citizens for Limited Taxation
|Failed efforts to restore Framingham's fiscal health||Tuesday, August 4, 2009|
|Enzo Rotatori||Metrowest Daily News|
FRAMINGHAM -- I am in my third term as an elected Framingham Town Meeting member. I have come to the conclusion that my 19 three-hour nights per year have made no difference in the fiscal management of town government.
I have focused on two areas of town expenditures which represent more than 75 percent of the town's total budget as voted on and approved by town meeting members.
The school budget represents more than 60 percent of the budget. In the non-school budget, TM members can challenge and vote against any of the hundreds of expenses listed by various departments. The school budget is a single vote for the entire school budget. For example, I would like to challenge the school department "administrators" expense showing 24.69 persons in the category, each earning an average of $97,580 plus benefits. We only can vote for the number on the bottom line.
There is an agreement from the past that schools get at least 60 percent of the town's actual budget. It is time for a change.
It is ironic that we have nearly the same number of school employees as we did in 1980, but we have 2,195 fewer students in the system since 1980. Think about it. Why do we have so many school employees for so fewer students?
The other budget item I spend much personal time on is group insurance, that being the over generous employee health insurance expense. As has happened over years, union negotiators seem to overwhelm town representatives and we get less what is good for the taxpayers and more uncontrollable expenses.
The union agreed to increase their contribution for health insurance by one percent, leaving the town with 89 percent of this $31.5 million expense. The union agreed to pay an additional two percent the following year and zero percent increase in the third year. At that pace, it will take 30 years from inception of this outrageously one-side agreement to have employees paying 25 percent and the town taxpayers 75 percent.
The BOS approved the newly negotiated health insurance package. Town meeting members must vote approval of any budget item. The BOS contract approval took the power to modify the budget out of Town Meeting's hands.
Does Town Meeting really have final control of budget items? I think not!
The Framingham Taxpayers Association in 2004, performed an extensive review of employee salary increases of town employes over a 20 year period. Consumer Price Index was exceeded in granting Cost of Living Adjustments by more than 14 percent, resulting in wage adjustments exceeding tens of millions of dollars on a cumulative basis.
A newspaper article appearing in a Boston paper in May 2008 stated the following:
"Public employees in eastern Massachusetts now earn 15 percent more than their private sector counterparts who perform comparable work, and that number is exclusive of more generous government benefit packages."
Financially, how healthy is Framingham?
I met with the director of Public Works some time ago and asked him how much it would take to bring roads, sidewalks, water and sewer up to an acceptable level. His response to me was a minimum of $100 million.
Recent information regarding unfunded town liabilities disclosed the following:
Post Employment Benefits: $216,902,994
Stabilization Fund: should be $10 million, balance is only $5 million.
As we begin paying into these unfunded liabilities, the result will be less money to support regular town expenses.
Since the majority of budget expenses is for town employees, the only effective way to reduce expenses is to reduce the number of employees.
What would happen if the town had to file for municipal bankruptcy? I do not know if that is actually possible in our state; however, 32 municipalities have filed for bankruptcy in this country since 1980.
It was just one year ago in May that Vallejo, Calif., did just that. Good wages and good benefits drove them to file. As part of their bankruptcy, they reduced wages and benefits. Unions challenged that in court and lost. Various legal appeals are still underway in that community.
Unless dramatic steps are taken, Framingham could face a similar situation.
I really have not been effective in making meaningful change as a Town Meeting member. As a former executive in private business, my contributions were measurable and driven by good business practices.
It is time to permit someone else to attempt to impact the town's fiscal issues.
I am resigning my position as Town Meeting member and returning to family and retirement.
Enzo Rotatori lives in Framingham.
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