EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 22, 2013

Timberlane say vote has 'unintended consequences'

By Alex Lippa

---- — PLAISTOW — At Town Meeting last year, Timberlane and Hampstead voters chose to allow the public to vote on the SAU 55 budget. Now, officials are saying voters may not have understood the ramifications of that decision.

“We are calling it the unintended consequences of that decision,” Superintendent Earl Metzler said yesterday. “Now that it’s a standalone budget, we have to budget for total exposure.”

SAU Board Chairman Michael Mascola said he expects the budget to go up significantly next year because of the decision.

“We now need to budget potential benefits for all employees,” Mascola said. “The budgets will go up to account for that.”

Last year, the budget allocated $195,000 for health insurance. This year, Metzler said, the proposed budget will call for a significantly larger amount.

“We have to raise that money regardless of if all the employees choose to use their benefits,” he said. “We need to budget in the event that everyone elects to take a particular plan”

In the past, Metzler said, officials were able to estimate the 12 employees’ benefits.

“(The SAU budget) was a line item in a much bigger budget,” he said. “We were able to take a good guess at what exactly it would cost.”

Residents wanted the option to approve or disapprove the budget every year in an effort to control spending, but Mascola does not believe increased benefits were taken into consideration.

“The warrant article from last year was made in good intention, but I don’t think the impact of the result was truly understood,” he said.

The money budgeted for benefits that isn’t used will go into a general fund toward next year’s budget. But it will still impact the taxpayers.

“We aren’t just padding the budget here,” Metzler said. “This is budgeting responsibly.”

Mascola fears that a higher proposed budget may lead more voters to opt for the default budget this year.

“It’s definitely more of a concern this year,” Mascola said. “Voters might just look at the bottom lines and not see the full consequences of that decision.”

But Metzler knows whatever the voters decide, school officials will have to work with it.

“Whatever they give us, we will have to be smart with,” Metzler said. “We respect the voters and they have every right to vote on what we do with our budget.”