The commissioners objected to cuts to their originally submitted budget of $22.2 million for fiscal year 2023, made at the May 4 assembly meeting. They believed it would hurt essential services, eliminate previously approved positions and cost county revenue.
The May 25 AOD meeting has been rescheduled to 4:35 p.m. to allow everyone to join the meeting online.
What does the Assembly of Delegates do for Cape Town?
According to his websitethe Assembly of Delegates works with the Board of County Commissioners to manage regional services in Barnstable County, which serves all 15 communities on the Cape Peninsula.
Why does the Assembly want to cut the county budget?
“Regardless of how the vote goes this afternoon, I look forward to in depth discussion,” Commissioner Ron Bergstrom told the AOD at the start of the meeting. “Ultimately, it’s the people we represent who will decide how we fund the operation of Barnstable County.”
“I think it would be a big mistake not to override this veto,” Vice President Mary Chaffee of Brewster said, kicking off the discussion. “The waiver gives us flexibility as we move forward. County Commissioners can come back to us with requests for funding and we can assess them and approve additional budgets. If we pass the larger budget, we won’t be able to have another conversation in a few months and prune it again.
Susan Warner, Yarmouth’s delegate, noted that the proposed budget was 11% higher than the fiscal year 2022 budget of $20 million.
“Taking it down by $834,000, that brought it down to 6.9%,” Warner said. “It is imperative that we act in a fiscally responsible manner. Public service spending is increasing. Inflation is on the rise. COVID has exhausted our resources. Throughout this year has been a difficult budget process. The Assembly did this to provide checks and balances. We considered everything we were given. Let’s vote for the waiver and promise not to be afraid to make tough decisions.
Several delegates noted that the county has benefited from a two-year rise in real estate prices. The county budget is funded primarily by an excise tax on transaction deeds. This brought in $11.7 million in fiscal 2021 and $17.7 million in fiscal 2022. With interest rates rising, they feared revenue would drop dramatically.
“The revenue streams are very risky right now,” said Dave Dunford of Orleans. “An increase in the excise tax is problematic at this time.”
Not everyone was on board.
“I can’t accept the amended budget,” said Sallie Tighe of Truro after praising the assembly’s hard work.
“I don’t support the waiver either,” Brian O’Malley agreed. “The message we are sending with the waiver is general disapproval. It’s not specific. The finance committee did not recommend any of the cuts we made. The budget was developed in good faith by the commissioners to do the work that has been thrust upon us over the past two years.
O’Malley added that while the residential real estate market may be “exploited,” the commercial market is still strong.
“We are reducing essential services at a time when we are not in a rush. I don’t think it’s the right time to do that,” O’Malley added.
Last year, the county’s revenue was $29.5 million, well over its budget — but that surplus was largely due to a $6 million increase in county excise taxes.
All but one of the other delegates spoke in favor of the waiver, noting that additional requests could address concerns. Three delegates, Terrance Gallagher of Eastham, Tighe and O’Malley voted no, but the AOD is weighted by population so the tally was 94.8% in favor of the waiver, easily topping the two-thirds required.
Commissioners reject Assembly of Delegates budget cuts
The three commissioners had voted 3-0 to reject the AOD’s amended budget with the cuts at their May 23 meeting.
Commission President Sheila Lyons detailed a list of objections to the AOD cuts and on May 26 commissioners vowed to continue fighting the cuts.
The AOD “has not provided a report explaining the reasons for each recommendation that differs from the commissioners’ recommendation as required by the county charter,” Lyons said.
She also said that the ODA process deviates from the budget development process outlined in the charter.
“There was no public consultation on which areas of the budget should be cut and why,” she said. “(There was no) identification of the proposed cuts prior to the May 4 meeting. Administration and staff were not notified until after the meeting had begun. Residents of Barnstable County have the right to know why the assembly proposed cuts.
Commissioners also argued the increase was 6.4%, not 11%, because the AOD had approved supplementary budgets last year and additional revenue had come in.
Lyons noted that three positions that were cut were approved by the AOD last year. The loss of information technology positions would prevent the county from providing promised services to Harwich and Bourne and cost the county between $143,000 and $258,000 in needed revenue.
In addition to excise tax, the county derives revenue from services ($1.2 million), deed registry business ($2.2 million in FY22), and rental the courthouse ($1.8 million in FY22).
Lyons also said removing a $93,000 resource officer would make it difficult to pursue and manage federal and state funding for sewage, broadband, PFAS groundwater pollution, affordable housing. and other topics.
They also listed many concerns about other smaller cuts and sent the AOD a letter explaining this before the AOD’s veto was overturned.
“Today County Commissioners are sworn to fight the cuts, to honor all service contracts,” the commissioners wrote in a May 26 press release.
They will discuss their plans at their next meeting on Wednesday, June 1.
“We will continue to work diligently in the coming weeks to secure these funds,” Lyons added. “It is essential that the county honors all of its service agreements with Cape Town cities.”