Wrentham Budget Challenges

On February 5th, The Sun Chronicle published an article entitled, “Wrentham to decide tax hike in April.” In it the suggestion was made that municipal government has not done its share to help with our financial crisis, that we should be “managing our budget” better.

Our budget woes are not a result of the department heads and town staff failing to “manage our budget.” The staff at Town Hall have indeed “stepped up to the plate.”  They and the Finance Committee have shown a great respect for the tax payers’ money and have done an amazing job delivering high quality services in an environment of steadily dwindling resources.

The revenue side of the budget equation is a different story.  There have been a number of lost opportunities to improve our revenue situation that did not involve raising taxes and fees and that could have been implemented to the benefit of the town in a different political environment. E.g,

  • Finding a way to make the Hotel Overlay district more compatible with the community’s needs (we lost some $500k in tax revenue from that project)
  • Heeding the recommendations of the PILOT Fund Committee to rezone the State School property from CRSP to commercial to recapture the state PILOT funds (we lost over $300k a year on this)
  • Partnering with a cell carrier to build to the communication tower at Rhodes Drive (and collect rent).

If you’re counting, the hotel district, PILOT fund losses, and partnering with a cell carrier add up to some $800 to $900k+ in revenue, which is about half of the $1.5 million short fall predicted by the Town Administrator.

There are a few places where we can spend less, like our legal budget ($124k). And we need to make those cuts.  However, doing so will not cover the $1.5 million shortfall projected by the town administrator.

When I voted to put the override on the ballot it was out of respect for Wrentham’s residents who are hardworking and intelligent people capable of deciding their own fate at Town Meeting.

The underlying truth about our financial situation is that there’s not much of substance left to cut from the budget.

That means we as a community have to ask the hard question, “Do we want to, or do we have to, cut vital services (like public safety and education) or are we willing to pay to maintain them?”

In this situation, the Board of Selectmen’s job is to inform the public honestly and accurately and let Town Meeting do its job: express the will of the community.

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