LONDONDERRY —Town officials are heading into budget season for fiscal year 2021 and got an early look at what the numbers might be during a morning budget workshop.
It's the beginning of a months long process that will lead voters to a list of town budget requests and warrant articles next March.
A morning session Nov. 2 started the process, with Town Manager Kevin Smith presenting some details on his proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, and also what the default budget would be if voters approved that number over proposed numbers.
The state put new rules in place last year that commands more specifically what may or may not be included default numbers as communities plan their budget.
That led, last year, to voters being asked to approve a supplemental budget along with the main municipal number, that included various expenditures not included in the default budget.
Smith's proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 announced Nov. 2 was $37,992,836. The proposed supplemental budget number is $153,005.
Smith noted some proposed special warrant articles that might make the list including special articles asking for $250,000 to fund town offices parking lot renovations and drainage issues to be paid for from the town's unassigned fund balance; public works capital leases for new vehicles at $53,115, $15,000 to support recreation vehicles including a mower and spreader, and potentially five union contracts.
Workshops are scheduled to continue in the months ahead as budget numbers get finalized prior to appearing on the ballot next March. Adjustments and numbers can change.
Town Council Chairman John Farrell also took time to address the town's Capital Improvements, or CIP, project list — a six-year planning tool for fiscal years 2021-2026 with proposed projects being listed according to priority.
The CIP is adopted by the Planning Board and has been used by Council, school board and Budget Committee as a tool during budget season for more than 20 years.
Farrell noted there are no town projects on the list; there are five school district generated capital projects, totaling about $70 million and including:
— $38 million for a full-day kindergarten program in town, noted as a Priority 2 and placed in fiscal year 2022.
— Districtwide school building needs, $15 million for fiscal year 2024, Priority 2.
— Construction of a community auditorium, $10 million, fiscal year 2026, listed as Priority 3.
— High school gym renovation/turf field, $3 million, fiscal year 2026, Priority 3.
— New school administrative unit building, $4 million, fiscal year 2026, Priority 4.
Farrell noted that the full-day kindergarten plan hasn't come before voters yet for approval, and expanding the program would also add another estimated $800,000 to $900,000 in operational expenses annually.
Farrell also pointed out the school district's declining enrollment, saying in 2006 enrollment was at 5,600; in 2010 numbers were at 5,100, and today there are approximately 4,150 district wide.
The councilor said it's the council notably always having to answer to the public about how much things cost, and why taxes are the way they are, but he reminded everyone that the town is a separate entity from the school district and schools make up the majority of the combined tax rate.
Farrell also said the council charged Smith with "taking a hiatus" from presenting a long list of warrant articles to residents at the polls.
"We have to peel back the warrant articles," he said. "Last year we had three pages of articles."
Farrell said residents have been very supportive of the town and "we are at the point where we can really go some period of time without going to the voters."
That means more money could be used from the town's unassigned fund balance to finance projects.
"We could start to limit going to voters with articles asking for money," Farrell said, "and how much can we take out of unassigned fund balance to give back to voters. So when we have extra money, we can return it to the voters."