The Mansfield Board of Selectmen met last night and discussed the recent resignation of the six most senior members of the Financial Advisory Committee following the first session of town meeting.
Selectmen agreed that the entire situation was not agreeable. The budget was far from perfect, and all involved said before town meeting that they were not happy with it.
“We didn’t solve anything,” selectman Kevin Moran said. “This was not going to be a compromise budget … it came down to layoffs or free cash. It was the best outcome we could do at the time.”
Selectmen agreed that the loss of the 60 plus years of experience was detrimental to the town. George Dentino said that he felt they did not do enough to help out the committee, and thought the board should extend an invitation, which the board later agreed to do, to talk to the former members and find out exactly why they left and if there was any way they could come back.
“My take on this is we lost six people,” he said. “We lost six people with multiple years of experience that I think they did an excellent job. The board was very very strong on advising us on principal.”
Selectmen did acknowledge the tough situation the Finance Committee was in. With only a week to prepare and research the new budget before town meeting (without any extension) they said in a joint school committee selectmen meeting that they felt they did not have the time to go over it properly. Moran said their resignation was equally sudden. “They could’ve spoken to us before they resigned,” he said. “At this point I would welcome it.”
Town Manager William Ross said that, while the adopted budget was not ideal, the alternative presented by the Finance Committee was not much better. They suggested in a budget subcommittee meeting before town meeting that the town layoff positions (almost exclusively in the school system, and, as Superintendent Brenda Hodges pointed out at town meeting, all in the regular education system because of federal mandates) and use a large chunk of the free cash to fund the unemployment benefit costs of those newly vacated positions.
“There really wasn’t a good answer,” Aptowitz said. “We were between a rock and a hard place. Either you spend $1 million [in free cash] on unemployment or you spend $1.3 million and keep 40 people working…It comes down to the whole budget process. The whole budget process is flawed, it has been flawed, and it is one town, it should be one big budget with two department heads, Bill [Ross] and Brenda [ Hodges].”
Ross said the main issue is the town does not have control over raises for town employees. Currently 84 percent of the budget is in employee salaries and benefits, which, because of union contracts, cannot be easily negotiated and leveled out. He said that currently he is working towards a model that is currently used in Randolph, in which salary raises are calculated on a percentage directly related to the town’s revenue. “Any increases or decreases will be tied to revenue,” he said. “That’s not going to be any fun, but I’ve already warned several units that’s where we’re headed.”
“We dodged a bullet this year,” selectman Doug Annino said.