Town Meeting Subcommittee | Ways and Means
The town's financial compass
The Ways & Means Committee, also known as the Finance Committee, is a subcommittee of Town Meeting; it has 15 members, each serving a 3-year term. The main function of the committee is to make recommendations to Town Meeting regarding any financial articles, including department budgets*.
Any big one-time expenditures are requested separately through warrant articles at Town Meeting. Operational departmental budgets, however, are voted on in the May Town Meeting after being reviewed and recommended by the Ways & Means Committee.
Prior to submitting their budget to Ways & Means for its recommendations, department heads meet with either the Town Administrator or their elected Boards to go over the budget and make sure what they’re presenting is appropriate and accurate, making changes when necessary.
It’s worth repeating that this is for operational budgets, of which the majority is made up of personnel salaries and benefits.
By the time the proposed budget arrives at Ways & Means, it is pretty well set and the Ways & Means committee members vote either in favor or in opposition of recommending the budget to Town Meeting. Since these budgets have gone through such a thorough review beforehand, Ways & Means often votes unanimously in favor. Town Meeting Members might pay special attention to a significant minority opposition on Ways and Means. An 11-1 vote is not a big deal, for example, but a 9-3 or 8-4 vote should get some attention.
Ways & Means has also taken on budgeting for something called OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits), which is essentially the cost of healthcare for retired town employees. Many municipalities and state agencies failed to account for the rapid rise in the cost of healthcare which is provided as a benefit to town employees after they retire. The Burlington Ways & Means Committee began planning for a fund a few years ago, gradually increasing town-level contributions to this fund so we continue to be able to pay these costs. There is a regular actuarial review to ensure we’re on target.
The Ways & Means Committee is charged with balancing all the things we want for our community with the pool of money available in town - all while keeping taxes for property owners at a reasonable level and considering all residents, including those with a low or fixed income.
*Note that the School Committee is responsible for reviewing the school budgets line by line; Town Meeting and therefore Ways & Means only approve the budget in total.
Extra special thanks to Doug Davison for providing this information! I tried my best to paraphrase, but in many cases he said it better than I could have - so I credit him for this profile!