The Westford Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 to recommend to Town Meeting a figure $450,000 above the original recommendation from Town Manager Jodi Ross.
Initial revisions began after the School Committee recommended figure nearly $1 million higher than the original amount after recommending several new positions they say are vital to the town’s educational standards as well as unexpected special education mandates brought forth by the state.
Board of Selectmen chairman Kelly Ross voted along side Selectman Jim Sullivan to recommend that specific figure after the multi-week debate between the Selectmen, School Committee and Finance Committee.
Ross in particular noted his concerns on hiring new staff members after hearing Town Manger Jodi Ross repeatedly say that up to 30 staff members could be fired in Fiscal Year ’15 without revenue enhancements, saying this was unfair to current staff members who had taken painful cuts during contract negotiations and that possible employees would not want to come to a town where they could potentially be fired the next year.
“I think everybody here agrees that we’d love to give the school department everything they’re asking,” said Ross. “But there’s only so much money.”
Selectmen Andrea Peraner-Sweet and Bob Jefferies, both up for reelection in April, voted not to recommend the figure, instead preferring the recommendation from the Finance Committee to add an additional $105,000 from capital reserves on top of the extra $450,000.
Peraner-Sweet indicated her belief that the $105,000 was inconsequential to preventing the looming deficit crisis then.
Jefferies also added that the $105,000 was insignificant given the amount of negotiation in the process and the grand scope of the nearly $100 million budget, noting that a 1 percent decrease in projections on health insurance could make up those funds in question.
Initially Selectman Val Wormell voted with Ross and Sullivan, but after the Finance Committee, which was still technically having their own meeting simultaneously during the Board of Selectmen meeting, moved across the hallway to reconsider their $450,000+$150,000 recommendation from last week by a 7-1 margin and recommend the Board of Selectmen’s recommendation of $450,000, Wormell asked for a reconsideration of the Board of Selectmen’s recommendation.
While Wormell objected to the $450,000 figure, she objected to the figure being as high as it was given the possibility of the FY ’15 layoffs, particularly among new proposed hirings in the Police Department and Planning Department.
Following the reconsideration and extensive renewed debate among all the members, the initial 3-2 vote was made again on the same lines.
During the Finance Committee meeting taking place across the hall from the Selectman’s meeting, Finance Committee chairman Mike Princi told the Committee that this was the first split recommendation from the Selectmen on the operating budget he had seen since he joined the Committee in 2005.
School Committee Angela Harkness again indicated to the board that despite the fact that the Selectmen did not recommend the full amount requested by the School Committee, her members were in agreement that the new positions were necessary to maintain the district’s level of excellence, and that cuts would be made elsewhere in order to hire the new staff members if the money could not be found through appropriation or other sources of revenue.
Voters will act upon the Fiscal Year ’14 operating budget and other measures at the Abbot School gym on March 23.