Pre-Town Meeting FinCom hearing covers capital spending

March 16, 2024

By Betsy Levinson — 

Roads are getting some love this year. 

Addressing years of underfunding for public works projects, Town Manager Kerry Lafleur presented a capital budget of approximately $4 million for Fiscal Year 2025 at a Finance Committee hearing, a figure that is still way less than is necessary to fix and maintain the 108 miles of town streets. 

None of the town-side spending for FY25 requires an override of Proposition 2½, which limits how much a town can raise from its property taxes to fund municipal operations. 

Public Works spending was just one of the FY25 departmental budgets covered at the FinCom hearing last week. The articles will be voted on at the annual Town Meeting in April. 

The combined town and school budgets, at an estimated $137 million, represent an increase of about 5.7%, or $571 on the property tax bill for every $10,000; $1,042 on a $20,000 tax bill, and so on, according to FinCom Chair Parashar Patel. 

The bulk of the $571 is in school spending: $113 for the Concord Public School operating budget, $205 in CPS debt service, and $60 for the regional high school operating budget.  

Town-side spending makes up $191 of the FY25 increase, including debt service, operations, and joint accounts covering employee benefits. 

A slide from a FinCom presentation shows the committee’s roadmap. Courtesy image

How it adds up 

Capital spending is broken into tiers. Tier 1 is for projects up to $250,000, funded with available cash; Tier 2 projects that require borrowing but not an override range from $250,001 to $2 million; and Tier 3 items are above $2 million and require a debt exclusion override and ballot vote for ratification. 

Lafleur’s Tiers 1 and 2 capital projects this year represent $6.28 million. The lion’s share of the Tier 1 capital items are for public works and public safety, including a software upgrade; a new Council on Aging van; and various public works engineering projects. 

Tier 2 capital items, amounting to $4.1 million, include pavement and traffic management for the town’s roads, Lafleur said. 

Lafleur noted that the budget reflects town values such as diversity, equity, and inclusion, sustainability, and resilience. 

Lafleur said her office “hopes to kick off a strategic plan” in 2024. She also said the town’s new facilities director will guide future spending on town buildings. There is no budget request covering town building maintenance. 

Patel said he was encouraged by the careful planning agenda while lamenting the years of deferred maintenance in the Town Manager’s budget. 

“Deferring has consequences,” said Patel. 

Zoom participant Anita Tekle noted the lack of the annual “budget book” that would allow the public to follow the proceedings.  

“In the interest of transparency, it’s valuable for the public to see,” she said. 

Lafleur said it would be ready before Town Meeting. Some of the numbers may still change, she said. 

Ned Perry said the “roads are going downhill,” and wanted to see more money spent on them. 

Lafleur said “almost all” of her budget is devoted to public works, “but it’s not nearly enough. More is needed.” 

Investing in Concord 

Mark Gailus of the Transportation Advisory Committee said investing in public works projects like roads and bridges enhances the town’s resilience and connectivity, avoiding “over-priced emergencies.” 

Wendy Rovelli asked if repairing the Harvey Wheeler Community Center steps is in this year’s budget. Finance Director Anthony Ansaldi said the new facilities manager was “refining the budget,” and the Harvey Wheeler steps bid would be ready “fairly soon.” 

Dean Banfield asked if the state would partner with the town on changes to the Baker Avenue/Main Street intersection. Town Engineer Steve Dookran said there is “no state involvement.” 

Article 12 seeks the transfer of $76,870 from free cash to the Opioid Prevention Program Fund. Lafleur said the town will provide Narcan, a lifesaving drug that counteracts a drug overdose, at the library, among other measures.  

The funds are part of the settlement between the Massachusetts Attorney General and “certain opioid distributors and manufacturers.” Concord is expected to receive approximately $661,463 through 2038.  

The FY25 regional school budget is $120,000 over the guideline set by the Fincom, and School Superintendent Laurie Hunter said her office and the School Committee are working on it before Town Meeting. The CPS budget meets the guideline. 

Finance Committee hearings continue March 19 and 21 at 7 p.m. at the Town House and via Zoom.