Framingham official says to weigh debt exclusion for school project Wednesday, October 9, 2013
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Framingham school restructuring plan unveiled

FRAMINGHAM -- To afford other capital needs, the town should consider seeking a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion to pay for a planned $48 million school project, the town's chief financial officer said Tuesday.

CFO Mary Ellen Kelley made the recommendation while presenting a long-range municipal forecast that projects budget deficits in each of the next five fiscal years.

The $48 million middle school project slated for fiscal 2016, and a $20 million school project a few years later, will take up a large portion of the capital budget, Kelley said.

"We clearly begin to lose our ability to keep up," she told selectmen, forecasting a backlog of up to $27 million in projects the town may need to defer in the next five years.

While the town may need to make difficult budget decisions in coming years, selectmen said a surplus in this year's budget could lower property taxes.

"The elephant in the room is that $409,000," Selectman Charlie Sisitsky said.

If the town doesn't spend it, the money would automatically offset the tax levy, Kelley said.

She said she based her financial forecast on the town continuing to raise the property tax levy by the maximum 2 1/2 percent, and limiting debt payments to 5 percent of the operating budget.

Lowering health insurance costs through plan design or by shifting more of the cost onto employees would help close the budget gap, Kelley said.

Deferring on capital needs is a consequence of a debt service limit, Kelley said.

The town wouldn't have to push off as many projects if voters approved a debt exclusion ballot question to pay for the $48 million Fuller-Farley school project, Kelley said.

"That's what we did with the high school," she said, referring to the last big school project.

Selectman Mike Bower, a former School Committee member, said the town "really needs to stress" that without a debt exclusion, a lot of other projects will fall off the table.

Kelley plans to make a similar long-range budget presentation to the Oct. 16 special Town Meeting.

In other business, selectmen approved a plan to reduce the town's energy use by 20 percent, a goal of the state's Green Communities program.

Steven Weisman, the town's owner agent, proposed a strategy to improve the efficiency of town and school buildings, vehicles, streetlights and other energy consumers.

For one, the town could switch its nearly 5,000 streetlights to LED bulbs, said Weisman, vice president at Peregrine Energy Group Inc.

Town Manager Robert Halpin said the town is poised to present its Green Communities application to the state by the end of the month to become eligible for grants and rewards.

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