[Editor's note: The following is a Letter to the Editor submitted by former Stoneham Board of Selectman R. Paul Rotondi.]
Grab tight hold of your wallet taxpayers of Stoneham. The shell game is being played by School Committee members Shelly MacNeill and David Maurer to do away with the Budget Agreement (Rev 6) accepted by a majority of the Selectmen, School Committee and Finance board in March of 2011.
The reasons cited by them and some other elected and appointed officials, at the recent Tri-Board meeting, clearly indicates that they do not understand the Agreement or the Town’s fiscal restraints that drive it:
1. It was only a two-year Agreement.
This is not true. The Agreement was voted on and approved as a four-year Agreement to be in effect from Fiscal Year 2012 through Fiscal Year 2015. A provision was included that the Agreement would be reviewed after two years. The intention of this review was to examine how it was implemented and to make minor language changes to strengthen it, not to scrap the basic principles behind it.
2. The Agreement prevents Finance & Advisory Board from performing their responsibility of making recommendation on departments spending.
This is also not true. The Agreement does not tell the departments how to spend the money; it just divides the amount of available revenue in the most equitable manner. The Finance board can still make recommendations on how the money is spent.
3. No other communities have such an agreement.
This is also not true. If the opponents of the Agreement had done their homework, they would have known that it was modeled after an agreement from Ipswich, Mass. Additionally, does this mean if the Town comes up with an innovative way to manage their finances they shouldn’t do it unless other towns agree?
4. As a non-elected board, the Finance board should not make policy decisions.
This is also not true. The Agreement only states that if two of the three do not support a proposal to take money out of the Town Stabilization accounts all the boards agree not to support it. The Finance board does have the obligation to make recommendations on all articles. The Town Meeting is the only body that can decide on these issues. The Agreement only provides for a unified position of the Boards on the recommendations to the Town Meeting. It must be assumed that the only reason the opponents want this removed is that they want the ability to propose a raid on the stabilization accounts, stack the Town Meeting and get what they want, regardless of what the other two boards think.
5. It ties the hands of future boards.
This is a false argument. All new boards are obligated by all policies, regulations bylaws and votes in effect at the time of their election. New boards can vote to rescind them. The point here is that the majority of all the boards who voted for this Agreement are still serving. If they vote to cancel the Agreement, they are reneging on their vote and on a promise they made to the citizens of Stoneham.
6. The Agreement isn’t being followed.
This is a tempest in a teapot. Of the 18 requirements in the Agreement only two haven’t been followed precisely. The Agreement specifies that after available revenue is divided no single budget can increase by more than 2.5 percent. The numbers for the FY13 budgets were calculated and reviewed by the both the Selectman and the Finance board and presented at the Town Meeting. After the Budget was approved at Town Meeting, it was discovered that the town-side budget increased by 2.8 percent. This is a 0.3 percent mistake on a 57 million dollar budget. It was the result of human error and not a deliberate violation of the Agreement.
The second violation was not having quarterly Tri-Boards meetings. On several occasions the Selectmen tried to schedule the meetings but a meeting could not be held because of scheduling problems. One must wonder whether these scheduling problems were real, or manufactured to build an argument that the Agreement was being violated.
In conclusion, I ask you to contact the members of the School Committee, Finance board and tell them you do not want them to go back to the past, but you want them to uphold the Budget Agreement. It is in the best interests of Stoneham.
If you would like to read the entire Agreement, go to rpaulrotondi.com and click on the page budget agreement and then click on the link budget agreement.