Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Finance Board Input on BOE Budget
By James Lomuscio
Health insurance projections and a five-year capital forecast for school building upgrades took center stage tonight as Westport’s Board of Education welcomed to its budget meeting the Board of Finance and members of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM).
School Superintendent Elliott Landon’s proposed $105 million budget for 2013-14 represents a 4.9 percent increase over the current year. Elaine Whitney, school board chairwoman, noted the board would finalize the budget at its Feb. 4 meeting before presenting it to the finance board.
Finance board member Brian Stern suggested that both boards meet again prior to the school board’s formal presentation to the Board of Finance.
“There are many pieces that are going to come together over the next two weeks,” he said.
“The reasons we’re asking these questions is because we don’t know how all these numbers will add up,” said Avi Kaner, finance board chairman, adding that the town’s pension and OPEB (other post employment benefits) obligations remain “the big gorilla in the room.”
“We have to be cognizant of the taxpayer,” he added.
With that objective, the finance board and members of the RTM’s Finance Committee pored over a health insurance analysis and projections presented by principals of The Segal Group, Inc., a Farmington research firm engaged by the school board.
Robert Pernicka, Segal’s senior vice president, and Emily Swift, senior health benefits agent, offered detailed charts on health claims and budget projections vs. costs, showing a more than $15 million insurance cost for next year compared to $14.2 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013.
Finance board member Tom Lasersohn seemed perplexed that even with the health savings account (HSA) plans in place designed to reduce claims and costs, “we’re still projecting a 6 percent increase in costs.”
“Can we afford to provide these benefits going forward?” he asked.
Landon noted that policy holders with HSAs normally do not “go for unnecessary procedures.”
Next the finance board and RTM members heard Assistant Superintendent of Business Nancy Harris’ five-year capital forecast totaling $15.2 million from academic year 2013-14 though 2017-18, infrastructure improvements that include: replacing oil tanks and boilers, upgrading athletic facilities at Staples High School, lighting, roofing, and parking lot repaving.
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