April 26, 2023 By James E. Claypoole
Last Monday, voters attending the Town Meeting approved a Fiscal Year 2024 budget of $143.9 Million plus an Override of $7.89 Million for a grand total of $151,816,841.
The proponents of this approved budget were very persuasive during its’ presentation; however, I was shocked and disappointed at the superficial, cursory, and amateurish presentation to voters.
Let me tell you why. Let’s take a look at historical spending by the town.
Historical Hingham Town Actual Expenditures:
FY Year Expended
2016 $ 99,759,234
2022 133,736,565 Appropriated
2023 138,403,775. Appropriated
2024 143,926,374 Appropriated, Excluding the override
(Sources: Town Accountant “Archived Budgets” and FY 24 Town Meeting vote)
The difference between 2016 actual expenditures and the approved budget for next year is $44,167,140.
This constitutes an increase of over 44% between 2016 and the approved budget, EXCLUDING the override.
If we take the 2020 actual town expenditures of $107,858,836 compared to the approved budget, the difference is $36,067,538. This constitutes a 33.4% increase between 2020 and the approved FY 24 budget, excluding the override.
The proponents not only did not mention this huge disparity, nor did they discuss any justification for the dramatic increase in spending year over year.
“The annual growth of our education budget is not sustainable. ……..from 2011 to 2020, student enrollment grew by 4%, while the Education Budget grew by 53%” (Source: Board of Selectmen Warrant TM 2021, page 18)
How did this runaway spending happen?
In the FY 22 budget, the town received a one-time grant of $2,600,000 from the Federal Government, and used $2,400,000 from the towns’ Rainy Day fund for a total of $5,000,000 to balance the budget. (Source: Select Board Warrant TM 2021, page 18)
The principal use of this one-time bump to the budget was to hire additional employees, with the lions
share in the School Department.
Note the increase over the last 3 years of 60 employees. The school enrollment during this period declined 474, or over 10%. (Source: Hingham Annual Comprehensive Financial Report 2022, pages 136 and 141)
The COVID threat is over; the employees added to deal with the COVID threat of two years ago are still employed by the town, and are included in the budget approved by the Town Meeting April 24th.
There can be no justification to retain employees required by COVID in 2021, and include them in the FY24 budget.
Town Boards need to review staffing levels in relation to three years ago. Three years ago, the town was able to operate efficiently with substantially less employees than authorized by the current budget.
The town is top heavy with administrators!
The respective Chairs of the Select Board, School Committee and the Advisory Committee signed a “FY24 OVERRIDE FRAMEWORK AND FY24-28 FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT PLAN” mid-March 2023.
This agreement sets forth a variety of commitments with respect to future management disciplines to control the override of $7,890,467 approved at the recent Town Meeting.
The most important element of this agreement is that its’ terms and conditions are not enforceable beyond FY 24. (Source: see ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, last sentence page 2 of the foregoing Agreement).
I believe a balanced presentation of financial data should have been made to the voters for them to make an informed decision; at both the Annual Town Meeting, and those voters who will be casting their votes at the polls on April 29th .
The presentation of relevant financial and historical data to the voters by the proponents of the override is sorely lacking in balance and is at best, amateurish and sloppy.
This sort of presentation would never stand if an increase in spending of this magnitude were to be proposed in the private sector.
The voters were not provided sufficient empirical and historical data to make an informed decision.
Final approval of the override requires for its’ adoption a majority vote on Saturday, April 29th.
Vote by mail is still available; ballots must be returned to the Town Clerk by 8 PM election night.
When you go to the polls on April 29 th , I urge Hingham voters to vote NO on the override.