SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 17, 2014

Officials paint positive budget picture

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff Writer

---- — MARBLEHEAD — Finance Director John McGinn offered a mostly positive picture for the town’s next fiscal year budget at the annual State of the Town address last night.

“We start the FY15 process in the black,” based on revenue assumptions, current services and other contractual obligations, he said.

The budget so far accounts for a current level of services and town employees, “but this all has to be done in the context of a balanced budget,” McGinn said.

“It is always important to remember there are a handful of unresolved issues that we don’t want to lose sight of,” McGinn said. He said these include state aid levels and health insurance costs, among other things.

The address is the kick-off to the town’s budget development process, said Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren. The final budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year will be presented at Town Meeting on May 5.

Chelgren offered opening comments during the presentation and thanked department heads, town unions, and volunteer boards and committees in town for the work they do on the budget.

McGinn said some of the positive factors in next year’s budget include all collective bargaining agreements being settled, the town’s AAA bond rating and health insurance increases being lower since switching to the state’s Group Insurance Commission, commonly known as GIC.

The town’s total estimated revenue is just over $69.3 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1, McGinn said. The fiscal 2015 budget is projected to be about $68.7 million.

He said a lot of attention is put on state aid, which fluctuates from year to year. Fiscal year 2009 marked the highest amount the town has received, he said.

“Since then, the town’s net state aid has been reduced each year compared to the previous year until FY14, the year we are in right now,” he said. “We are still $1.2 million down in state aid from FY09.”

But the town has managed to work around the state aid decrease, he said.

McGinn said the town will continue to have to watch the state’s budget process as the town works to develop its own budget in the coming months.

“We will know sometime prior to Town Meeting, and there will be other factors to add in,” he said.

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.