FOXBORO — The second time around proved a charm for a pair of controversial funding requests which were revived Monday night after being rejected by voters at the annual Town Meeting last May.
The first involved restoring $21,500 to fund contractual pay raises for the town manager and assistant town manager, while the second authorized the transfer of $57,000 from the town’s free cash account to buy a new police cruiser — one of four being purchased this year.
Both items had been stripped from the fiscal 2020 budget last spring at the urging of advisory committee members, who convinced voters of the need to check municipal spending, which they claimed was increasing at an unsustainable pace.
Voters appeared in a more generous frame of mind this week, however, approving the pay increases by a 118-76 hand count and the police cruiser by a 172-26 show of hands.
But not before several present and former officials renewed a contentious debate showcasing different views of fiscal responsibility.
Even though both of the current articles were endorsed by the advisory committee, former board chairwoman Susan Dring of Kendall Drive reiterated previous arguments that town government (and spending) continues to climb in response to unnecessary hires and excessive pay hikes, which she said contribute to increased retiree health care and pension costs.
Dring said the town is taking in more revenue — an increase of $17 million over the past five years — but suggested chronic overspending has left little to save for future contingencies.
As a result, she said, advisory board members last May had hoped to “get someone’s attention” by convincing voters to eliminate funding for administrative pay raises.
“I hope you will help me send this message again,” Dring said. “Just because we’re taking in a lot of money doesn’t mean we have to spend it.”
Selectman David Feldman painted a different picture, however.
Feldman contended that rising municipal revenues have allowed town officials to save money by paying cash instead of borrowing for big-ticket items — such as the Burrell School overhaul.
In addition, Feldman said, Foxboro is one of few Bay State communities taking steps to fully fund future pension and retiree health care costs for town employees.
“We are saving money,” he said. “We are not spending everything we take in.”
Feldman furthermore urged residents to judge for themselves by reviewing audited financial information posted on the town website.
“There are no games here,” he said. “There are no secrets here.”
Town Manager William Keegan echoed Feldman’s remarks, adding that all union contracts feature negotiated pay raises of 2 percent — though he acknowledged that more recent hires typically receive concurrent step raises.
“It’s troubling to me to hear the information being presented tonight because it’s simply not accurate,” Keegan said.
But in some cases, such pleas fell on deaf ears. Indignant that the two requests were revived after being voted down at the annual Town Meeting, Deborah Stewart of Neponset Heights Avenue said many residents — herself included — cannot afford perennial property tax hikes. “That $21,000 can be found elsewhere in the budget they have,” Stewart said.