Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Careful Planning Prepared Braintree for New Budget Year

The 2012 state budget that Gov. Deval Patrick signed on Monday brought with it more discussion about squeezing savings by limiting collective bargaining, but that talk does not appear necessary in Braintree.
Last year the town succesfully negotiated enough savings with its local public employee unions to avoid joining the state's Group Insurance Commission. That means that Braintree, with its contracts set through 2013, will likely not have to use reforms that would allow municipalities to cut annual health care costs statewide by approximately $100 million by limiting union bargaining rights over co-pays and deductibles.
"We’re doing what we can through the negotiation process to contain the cost of health insurance and it's working out well," Mayoral Chief of Staff and Operations Peter Morin said. "It’s always better to work out your own problems on the local level.”
Braintree's health insurance cost-cutting – premiums went up about 2 percent and public employees here will soon pay $20 per doctor's visit under their contracts, up from $10 – is just one part of a plan that Morin said has positioned the town to remain financially stable despite the persistence of an overall poor economy.
For the fiscal year that ended on June 30, the town's revenue projections appear to be on target, Morin said, and at least one area shows extra funds coming in.
Building permit fees are up $69,000 over the $1.5 million the town projected when it crafted the 2011 budget, largely based on a June payment by Dave & Buster's.
"We don't have any major flaws in our projections," Morin said, adding that town officials are still going over the year's receipts and expenses.
Earlier this year, as the town prepared for fiscal year 2012, officals met with local lawmakers and decided to base Braintree's $96.16 million budget on the lower spectrum of local aid numbers. Those included a $350,000 cut from 2011 in general local aid.
"We picked the most conservative estimate," Morin said, which until recently amounted to $4.49 million.
But in a compromise reached by the House and Senate and included in Patrick's approved document, cities and towns could see an overall $65 million cut eliminated, based on unused 2011 state funds. During a press conference on Monday, the governor's budget chief Jay Gonzalez said the local aid would be restored based on his office's projections.
Town Councilor John Mullaney, chair of the Committee of Ways & Means, said he would like to see that money go toward education and public safety.
"There are so many different ways for this to go in," Mullaney said. "You want to stabilize the schools and stabilize the police."
The final state budget includes no new taxes, and Patrick did not veto any spending measures. He did take out a number of outside budget sections, though, including proposals on cigar bars, prescription drug waste and an audit of the MassHealth program.
Chapter 70 school money for cities and towns was increased by $140 million over last year and circuit breaker special education funds saw a $80 million hike. To help make up for a gap caused in part by a dropoff in federal stimulus funds, the budget uses $185 million from the state's rainy day fund and takes $800 million from MassHealth.
"While the federal government continues to accrue debt, this state budget is balanced and fiscally prudent," Sen. Brian A. Joyce said in a statement. "Given limited resources and a challenging economy, we made targeted economic investments and by necessity, some very difficult cuts."
Despite those cuts, state spending remains "out of control," town councilor Paul "Dan" Clifford said.
The legislature appropriated $29.45 billion for fiscal year 2011, more than $1 billion less than for the current year, though midyear spending bills ultimately brought 2011 projections to $30.85 billion, according to
Clifford said that based on those numbers it was hard to swallow a message from lawmakers earlier this year that the state faced continued reductions, especially when he said illegal immigration remains a drain on the state's economy.
Still, Clifford said he was pleased with the likely level-funding of local aid from the late compromise, and with the town's early movement on cutting healthcare costs.
"Braintree was well ahead of the curve," Clifford said. "I give high marks to Mayor Joe Sullivan."