Town Administrator presents Fiscal Year 2025 town budget
Town Administrator Derek Sullivan offered the Finance Committee a first look at a proposed budget for the town of Wareham in Fiscal Year 2025. The budget all told comes in at $81.6 million, with school funding a major topic of discussion.
"We've had some challenging times," said Sullivan. "This one is probably one of the more challenging as the hits kept on coming, each and every time, which culminated with the state aid, more specifically Chapter 70."
Chapter 70 is a state program that funds public elementary and secondary schools.
The Wareham Public Schools portion of Chapter 70 aid "went up a whopping $67,320" this year, Sullivan said. With other aid factored in, Wareham Public Schools is receiving only an additional $73,783, an 0.44% increase over last year's figure. This makes for a total of $17 million in state aid for the school system.
"I know there was a slight decrease in some of the enrollment, but also just the Chapter 70 — it's abysmal," Sullivan said.
He added the School Committee thought that with Covid pandemic relief grants going away, "the Commonwealth would help a little more. That clearly did not happen."
Sullivan's proposed budget looks to other places to help make up for this state-aid gap, while increasing net school spending from $30.7 million in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget to $31.7 million in the Fiscal Year 2025 budget. This includes some optimistic assumptions about the amount of local receipts the town will receive in Fiscal Year 2025.
Local receipts consist of money collected locally, included fees, licenses and motor vehicle excise tax. The budget takes "a couple big jumps on local receipts that are probably outside my normal comfort zone, but I don't see taking more out of the budget overall," Sullivan said.
It estimates local receipts at $8,055,000 for Fiscal Year 2025, 10% higher than was budgeted for the year before. This estimation still comes in lower than the town's actual receipts from Fiscal Year 2023, which were at just under $10 million.
The biggest line-item increase in the local receipts comes from growth in the town's investment accounts. That line item is budgeted at $150,000 in Fiscal Year 2024 and at $700,000 in Fiscal Year 2025.
The town has collected "over $400,000 in the first quarter of this fiscal year" from its investments, making the higher figure a safe bet, Sullivan said.
On the other end of the spectrum, the town's revenue from the cannabis industry has "basically bottomed out," Sullivan said. "We always said [the first year] was going to be our highest and best year," due to Wareham being one of the first in the Commonwealth to open cannabis shops. That revenue is budgeted in at $150,000 for the Fiscal Year 2025 budget.
The budget all told is not pulling out support for the schools, said Finance Committee Chair Norma Scogin.
"Check my math, but I figure it's actually about an 8.5% increase to the schools," said Scogin. "It's very important, but we have what we have to work with."
“While there is not as much money going directly to the school budget as was requested by the school, the greatest portion of money is going to education,” said Sullivan.