Town begins Fiscal Year 2025 discussions

Marblehead’s Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer speaks on article 31 during the 2023 Annual Town Meeting. Photo by Libby O'Neill

Preparations are already underway among town leaders to begin putting together budgets for Fiscal Year 2025.

The town’s Finance Committee met Monday night to provide an update on the FY25 calendar and a revenue forecast, in addition to a budget-process update. Committee member Alec Goolsby, who was re-elected as chair at the meeting, laid out key dates that will ultimately lead up to the budget’s presentation at Town Meeting 2024. 

This was the committee’s third meeting since the town’s election in June, when the $2.5 million override was voted down, forcing the town to use a reduced-services budget for FY24. At Town Meeting, residents voted 534-23 to put the one-year override on the ballot for June’s election, only for it to fail by a count of 3,399 to 2,992. 

According to the calendar, revenue forecasts were finalized and presented to the Select Board by Finance Director Aleesha Nunley Benjamin on Oct. 11. On Oct. 16, FY25 operating-budget messages were sent out to all of the town’s department heads, including information on the budget, Government Finance Officers Association goals, and objectives that are due to the Finance Department. 

The next key date for the committee is Nov. 25, the deadline for it to receive budgets, capital requests, and GFOA goals and objectives. 

Currently, there is one vacancy on the committee. However, when detailing the liaison assignments for each member, Goolsby said that a new member will “presumably be in place, hopefully, before we start our liaison meetings.”

Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer informed the committee that there are interviews scheduled with the Select Board for the open position at its next meeting on Nov. 15. 

Goolsby stated before presenting the revenue forecasts that while two budgets are being built, including one with reduced services, it is still too early to determine whether or not an override will be needed for FY25. 

“Just because we’re at step one of this budget, where two are being developed, that doesn’t mean there’s going to be a one-year override presented. It doesn’t mean there’s going to be a three-year,” Goolsby said. “That first step needs to happen whether a longer-term override that may cover multiple years, or no override is presented to us.”

Goolsby noted, however, that it wouldn’t surprise him if an override was presented at some point due to the town’s recent “revenue challenges.”

In an interview with the Weekly News in June, Kezer hinted that there will likely be another override presented as the longer that one is put off, the bigger the deficit will become. 

“The challenge for the following year is that the structural deficit will just grow even larger,” Kezer said. “The sooner you can address a structural deficit, the less it will cost.” 

Kezer also said that while residents won’t notice a substantial difference for FY25, the override’s failure does put the town “closer to the margin of trouble.”

Finance Committee member Timothy Shotmeyer called the override failure a “slap in the face” to departments that spent months assessing their budgets. 

One of the major concerns among residents at Town Meeting in May was transparency in building the budgets, which may have played a role in the decision of voters to reject the override. For the upcoming fiscal year, the town will be using its new budget building software, Cleargov, for the first time, which Kezer said will help improve clarity and organization. 

“It will be a big improvement over last year’s process, because we were relying on spreadsheets and things moving around,” Kezer said. “Cleargov will be a big improvement in that process.”

He also noted that using the new system for FY25 will be a “big learning year” for town officials.

“There’s still a lot of work and a learning curve to get through,” he added. 

Another factor in last year’s override was the incorporation of the school district’s override budget into the town’s, with the district’s override representing more than 50% of the town’s. It is not immediately clear if the school’s budget will be added again to the town’s FY25 budget. 

According to the revenue forecast, which is likely to change as the budget process continues, the total revenue and available funds for FY25 are projected at $105,871,502, an increase of $377,816 from last year. 

The preliminary forecast also listed the declining amount of free cash that was used to build the budget at $6 million for FY25, compared to the $8 million that was voted on for FY24.