The chairs that members of the Bedford Select Board occupy in their Town Hall meeting room are not equipped with seat belts.
Town Manager Sarah Stanton Monday night indicated metaphorically that they might consider a retrofit in time for her Dec. 19 fiscal 2024 budget presentation.
“The general budget picture is expensive this year,” Stanton said. “Every department has come forward with substantial needs, and everything is more expensive.”
Last week, the Finance Committee approved a fiscal 2024 spending increase guideline of 3.5 percent – a 1 percent increase over the ceiling in effect for many years. Select Board Chair Emily Mitchell, reporting on last week’s Finance Committee meeting, noted in passing that the cost-of-living increase is 8.7 percent.
Stanton said she appreciates the committee’s acknowledgment, but predicted that the budget she submits will exceed the guideline. She stressed that budget requests are accompanied by “thoughtful, detailed justifications” from town department heads.
She enumerated a range of goods and services that will be more expensive in Fiscal Year 2024. Energy. Health insurance. PVC piping. Financial software. Paint to stripe athletic fields. Soap and toilet paper. “We are all feeling it individually, and it is really making it difficult to budget,” Stanton said.
Another factor is a backlog emanating from restrictions of recent years. A year ago, there was “more stringent adherence” to a 2.5 percent guideline, and the previous year pay increases were suspended for management personnel as the town tried to navigate the pandemic.
Stanton stressed that her budget is not replete with new or expanded positions or programs; it should be defined as “maintenance of effort.” Department heads and the finance director are “preparing a budget that is thoughtful, fiscally responsible, but also acknowledging the realities of what things are costing these days.”
“We are knee-deep in budget preparations,” Stanton told the board. She said she has been meeting with town department heads “every day – it feels like all day.”