Congregational Meeting January 8, 2023: Record of Feedback

COST REDUCTION- Suggestions and Comments

  1. (1a) Is it possible to achieve a half of an FTE expense by changing building manager to half-time with some responsibilities reassigned to other staff (e.g., office manager)?   

Lynn Dove, B & G Chair: No. Since the pandemic the property manager has taken on the lead for the tech team which has increased her job responsibilities significantly.  To achieve this, some responsibilities have been shifted to Annie.  Volunteers have also stepped forward to assist in the cleaning and maintenance that Jane previously did.  A congregant has also paid for a cleaning service to assist in the weekly cleaning.  We have recently evaluated each of the property managers responsibilities and prioritized which need to be completed by the property manager and which could be completed by volunteers.  Without a significant increase of volunteers who could commit for a long term, we depend on the property manager handling projects that require a significant learning curve such as learning the various building system components and learning the technology to run hybrid services.  

Response from Personnel Chair/ Wayne Starkey:  The Building Manager has assumed other significant duties due to Covid and continues to work on technology and audio/visual tasks associated with online services.  Due to this expansion of her tasks, some of her duties have already been transferred to the church administrator.

  1. (1b) Do other churches employ a full-time building manager? Can we share one with another church? 

Response from Personnel Chair/Wayne Starkey:  Due to the busy building schedule that UUSE experiences weekly,  sharing a Building Manager would be difficult and cumbersome with little benefit. 

Response from Rev. Josh: There are many models for how  this is done. Many churches of our size and larger employ a full-time building manager with various responsibilities. Other churches our size and smaller will sometimes cobble together a number of part-time jobs that add up to one full-time job. Or they have a mix of volunteer and paid-staff whose work adds up to an FTE. One of the reasons UUS:E moved to a full time building manager (sexton) 15 years ago was because we were having trouble finding a sufficient volunteer base to complete all the tasks that needed doing.

  1. (7a) Are all the employees actually working as much as we pay them for? We should not cut hours for employees who work hard, but it doesn’t seem that they all do. The employees are not all the same.

Response from Personnel Chair/ Wayne Starkey:  Josh and committee chairs meet with employees semi-annually to review work performance, schedules and goals.  Employees in professional positions, DRE and MD,  perform a great deal of their work tasks at home and very little time at the church. 

Response from Rev. Josh: Yes, in my view, all the employees are working as much as we pay them for. On the whole, the staff tend to work more hours than what we pay them for.  

  1. (11a) Decrease building costs by decreasing hours the building is open.

Building and Grounds Chair/Lynn Dove:   Many of the major building expenses continue whether the building is open or not, such as the roof, parking lot, heating systems.  We could save some on electricity by limiting hours that the building is open but this would mean we wouldn’t have someone answering phones, receiving packages, and would be asking Annie to work from home.  It would limit times when rehearsals could be done, when groups could gather.  

  1. (11b) Last resort is to decrease staff.
  2. (13a) Insurance costs are high for a small number of people. Any possibility of pooling with others? Wayne: Dental and life insurance are through the UUA. Current health insurance rate beats exchange plans. Stan: Broker provides many plans each year; try to keep increase to 10%.

Response from Personnel Chair/ Wayne Starkey:  

Our dental, life, and LTD insurance is currently in a pool with other UU churches nationwide through the UUA. The Health Insurance offered by the UUA is also in a UUA pool, but continues to be more expensive than insurance policies we purchase directly using an insurance broker, sometimes through the CT exchange.  By using a local vender we can

offer less expensive and more beneficial high-deductible plans with an HRA. The Personnel Committee searches annually for the best benefits at the least cost for our staff and the church. We begin our search in April and usually contract in May.

  1. (31a) Is $28,000 to UUA negotiable?

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone:  

  • We can negotiate, but we’ve gotten much valuable help recently and in the past.
  • The UUA has already asked UUSE for $2,000 less this year than last year.
  1. (35) Regardless of what amount of money comes in for the next year (plus) from any source, I would like to see UUSE to do all the cost cutting that it possibly can and start it in January. If we are serious about turning things around and changing our behavior, then some difficult choices are ahead.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone:  

  • We can and will identify and implement areas of savings this year where possible.
  1. (35) Reduce our contributions to the UUA by at least 50% and start today. I would think the UUA would fully support not receiving funds from congregations who need to engage in deficit spending and are about to run out of reserves.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone:  

  • We already paid them 75% of what is due this year. Also see #7 above.
  1. (35) Do all or most of the cost cutting noted on the Personnel possible reductions slide provided by Wayne.

Response from Personnel Chair/Wayne Starkey:  The cost cutting measures presented in the personnel slides on Jan 8th were drastic and will have a significant impact on our employees and the operation of our church.  Some or all of these cuts would only be made as a last resort and would result in a very different UUSE. 

  1. (35) Reduce Music budget.

Response from Personnel Chair/Wayne Starkey: Reducing the music program would directly affect our “music ministry”  which speaks to our members with particular music interests.  It would reduce or eliminate our choir and special music services,  reduce or eliminate our concerts and other musician activities, and could reduce or eliminate music for Sunday services.

  1. (35) Quite often there is an unhelpful emotional component to discussing personnel and benefits which quickly shuts down any real examination of the personnel budget and options. As an example, during the Jan 8th meeting, people were shouting ‘NO’ during Wayne’s presentation of Personnel’s brainstormed list without listening or understanding the implications.

Response from President/Peggy Webbe:  Personally I agree with you as calling out from the floor tends to intimidate those with differing views.  In a democratic process, everyone should have the opportunity to speak, but not to make others hesitate to share their opinions.

  1. (35) Our organization with five employees cannot fairly be compared to others who employ many more people or churches who have many more members. Benefits are not in line with what most people within our Society have. A comparison of benefits with organizations with five employees
    would be more equitable, rather than for example, using the State of CT’s benefits as a guide.

Response from Personnel Chair/Wayne Starkey:  UUSE hires professional and non-professional employees with the education and experience needed to fulfill the job duties of their positions.   The number of employees seems appropriate for the size of our congregation,  one minister, one 32 hour DRE, one 32 hour Music Director, one Office administrator, one Building Manager, and a 12 hour RE asst.  They provide the music and structure for our mission and worship services.  Our benefits do not reflect those offered by the State of Connecticut,  but rather are parallel to those offered by other UU churches nationwide and reflect our values and principles.

  1. (35) I am not saying this is good, however, the reality is that benefits everywhere have become much less generous over the last 10-15 years. This large employer contributes 2% to the employees 401k which serves as the pension contribution – not 10% as UUSE is doing. They offer only high deductible medical insurance (including $6000-$8000 deductible plans) and the company contributes $1000 to the HSA for each employee. The employee medical premium contribution is 40%, and the company pays 60%.
  2. (36) Identify discretionary spending and consider freezing immediately, until expense savings are identified for this year.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone:  

  • We are closely monitoring our expenses as our current fiscal year draws to a close and will implement areas of savings this year where and when necessary.

Response from President/Peggy Webbe:

We are wondering if you have something particular in mind when referring to “discretionary spending”.  Also, if desired, we can identify what the Policy Board deems to be discretionary.

  1. (36) Identify and implement expense cuts effective by March 1st or earlier, because delaying will just make the later cuts larger and more painful.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone:  

  • See response to #15 above.
  1. (37) Add to the appropriate chair and employee (e.g., Building Manager) job descriptions – to shop periodically for lower cost providers/products, listing the various services for each (e.g., Finance – P&C insurance, B&G – snow removal, elevator service, etc.) 

Response from Lynn Dove B&G Chair – We already shop around for providers and products that we purchase considering cost, quality, and local and minority run businesses.  

  1. (36) B&G Contracts: snow plowing, elevator service, etc. Is it time to shop around to see if we can find lower cost providers for these services? For the larger contracts is, UUSE doing an RFP or RFQ?  

Response from Lynn Dove B&G Chair – B&G does shop around yearly to get the best contracts considering cost, reliability, and minority run business.  

  1. (36) Insurance (Property & Liability): does UUS:E, or an agent we work with, shop for lower cost providers that meet our coverage needs, every couple of years? A few years back, we overpaid approximately $5,000 in one year because we did not shop this insurance on a timely basis.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • Our current policies run from August 2022 to July 2023. Similar to how we done in the past, we will commit to looking at other insurers
  1. (36) UUA Annual Dues: we may have no choice but to reduce our dues paid until we can balance our budget and actuals, without reserve transfers. Have we had to do this in the past?

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • No, we have not reduced our contributions in the past. Also, the UUA has already asked UUSE for $2,000 less this year than last year. Also see #7 above.

FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT- Suggestions and Comments

  1. (22a) Church budget is talked about once a year at the annual meeting. We need to hear info from the Board more frequently.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • We are now including a link to the monthly financial report in the newsletter and e-blast, and we are also posting them in a publicly accessible section of Basecamp.
  1. (23 a and b) … is opposed to a Constitutional amendment not allowing deficit spending and would like to see more building rentals and expanded programming.

Response from President/Peggy Webbe:  The constitutional amendment would be written with words that allow some flexibility to address extenuating circumstances that UUS:E may encounter. 

  1. (25a) Many churches have 1% of income from endowment.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • If necessary, we plan to do this year. Up to $10K is in the current budget.
  • The 2023-2024 budget as currently proposed has $18K, representing 5% of the 12 quarter rolling average of the Endowment balance.
  • If we draw down the Endowment, it always will come from the income portion only.
  1. (35) Do not utilize the generous bequest that is coming for the operating budget or mortgage, put it into the endowment. This is a more respectful way to honor the donor as the funds would live in the Endowment in perpetuity and produce earnings for UUSE’s use each year going forward (rather than chopping up the amount to apply as a band aid cover for the past years of deficit spending).

Response from President/Peggy Webbe:  We are very aware of the importance of honoring Cliff Pelletier with UUS:E’s use of his bequest.  We have already sought advice from those who knew him best about uses of the funds that will honor him and we do believe that financial responsibility with his bequest is important. We agree that a significant donation to the endowment is proper.  At the same time, the bequest came without restrictions. The Board believes that paying off the mortgage is very important and has already voted in favor of the payoff when funds are available.   

  1. (36) Transfers from endowment may be appropriate, provided that the resulting endowment balance does not fall below the principal (sum of contributions), adjusted for inflation.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • See #3 in “Financial Management” above
  1. (36) Build a revised budget by March 1st, with the latest income and expense projections, including new information and expense cuts and income improvements that can be implemented this year.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • We are in the process of casting the 2023-2024 budget, and as part of that process we have been reviewing spending trends covering the 2019-2022 fiscal year through the current fiscal year. We have identified areas where we have not spent all of our budget on a consistent basis and reflected a lower amount in the new draft budget. In addition, we are closely monitoring our expenses as our current fiscal year draws to a close and will implement areas of savings this year where necessary.
  1. (36) Ensure that the 2023-2024 budget that is built for the annual appeal reflects identified expense savings and income improvements known at that time.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • Proposed budget already has savings and income improvements built in (for example, increased interest revenue – see #12 below)
  1. (36) Add to our By-Laws, requirements for a balanced budget and ending the year without a deficit (without reserve transfers).

Response from President/Peggy Webbe:  The constitution revision would call for a balanced budget but would also permit flexibility to address extenuating circumstances that UUS:E might encounter.

  1. (36) Add to our President and Treasurer job descriptions, the requirements for a balanced budget and ending the year without a deficit (without reserve transfers).

Response from President/Peggy Webbe and Treasurer/Glenn Campellone:  Okay – but with the acknowledgement that extenuating circumstances may require flexibility.

  1. (36) Add to the Minister’s job description, influence to obtain a balanced budget and ending the year without a deficit (without reserve transfers).

Response from Rev. Josh: I fully support the goal of a yearly balanced budget. I am not convinced a change to my contract is necessary, though it would be easy enough to make the change if people want it. 

  1. (36) May be worth re-visiting the ‘useful life expectancy by item’ that were used for the B&G reserve calculation. Some appear to be too short given that we lightly use our building. For example, if the 10-15-year life of ceiling fans is based on five-day usage per week, we can reasonably expect our ceiling fans to last several more years. Also, I would be surprised if we will have to replace windows, gutters/downspouts in the stated timeframes. Revisiting the expected life of each item would help ensure we have the best estimated reserve needs that we can calculate.

Response from Lynn Dove B & G Chair: We plan to renew the Building Reserve Study on a yearly basis.  This first iteration was done quickly to get a baseline, knowing that we need to do more research to get firmer numbers for some categories.  Likely the estimates are low due to not including labor costs for some items.  We already have had to replace a number of the windows before their stated lifespan due to failing seals.  Some were still under warranty when they failed.  The warranty for the windows has now expired.  

  1. (36) Income:

Anticipated Income- what comprises this line item, which has a $2,000 budget? Perhaps a clarification could be added to this line title. Building Rental – is it time to raise rates? Have we recently surveyed
Manchester area building rental rates for similar uses and for similar space to ours?

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • Anticipated Income is non-specific and is meant to reflect that reality that our planned fundraisers do better than expected or unplanned fundraisers are held which bring unanticipated income (for example, the Holiday Fair raised $5,500 more than budgeted and the unplanned Chocolate Auction raised $2,700).
  • Bob Knapp, Carrie Kocher and other members of a working group is evaluating our building rental rates

Interest Income:
Based on a review of the Oct. and Nov. balance sheets, there appears to be an opportunity to increase our interest income quickly and significantly. I suggest that FC consider the following:

1) Reduce checking account average monthly balances, which likely earn no interest. Shop for an interest-bearing business (non-profit) checking account (e.g., 2.0% available today) which waives monthly fees for an average balance of around $25k or lower.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • The Finance Committee already reviewed all commercial checking, savings and money market account options that exist at M&T today, and the decision was made to keep the existing accounts. Better options may be available at other banks, but unwinding our relationship with M&T would take an enormous effort.
  • We are watching our checking account balances closely, and we may consider keeping a lower monthly average balance if possible, with an eye towards preserving our liquidity position.

2) Replace the money market account that is paying 0.03%, with one that is currently paying 2.75% or higher. Also, consider replacing the money market account with a savings account, which often pays higher interest (3.0% available today), while offering the same liquidity.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • Changes were underway prior to these suggestions.
  • We reduced our Money Market account to the minimum required amount of $10,000 (from $72,000). We may decide to close this account at a future date, but we are leaving it open for now, which will provide liquidity if we should need it in the short term. The $62,000 was invested in Fidelity CDs earning 4.35% and 4.6%. Also see response below.

3) Replace all CDs with higher yielding CDs that correspond to our liquidity needs, perhaps doing a CD ladder. For example: Replace CD 1-23-2024 earning 0.33% with a current available rate of 3.8% for a 1-year Business CD, which has roughly the same maturity date of our current CD. The interest gain will significantly exceed the interest penalty for early withdrawal for existing CDs (assuming typical penalties). Implementing the above changes could increase our average interest rate on our bank deposits from approximately from 0.2% to 3.0%, for an annual increase of roughly $7,000 of interest income. This assumes keeping funds at M&T Bank is not a condition of something like a lower mortgage rate. If that is the case, we can still increase our interest income since M&T currently pays, for example, as much as 3.5% for a one-year CD. Note: for at least Oct and Nov, our total deposits at M&T Bank exceeded the FDIC insurance limit of $250,000, by a few thousand dollars. I recommend that we move enough cash to another bank, to ensure our total at M&T remains below the FDIC cap when factoring in future interest.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • Changes were underway prior to these suggestions.
  • We closed the three previous CD accounts and replaced them with two short term CDs earning 4.35% and 4.6% (Fidelity), and one 12 month CD earning 3.0% (M&T). We included a conservative estimate of interest income of about $5,000 in our 2023-2024 proposed budget; however, if the Federal Reserve continues to increase rates we could see an amount close to the $7,000 quoted above.
  • As a result of our investment changes, we have moved over $112,000 to Fidelity and invested in three FDIC insured CDs.
  1. (36) Personnel: What items account for the difference noted below?

Budget for Personnel Expenses (Nov. stmt): $399,700
Personnel Expenses on Slide on Jan 8th:       $361,301
Difference:                                                          $ 38,399

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • Wayne Starkey worked with Bob Knapp to reconcile these differences. No further response is necessary.

Response from Chair/Personnel Committee:  The difference between the total from the Treasurer and the slides from the Personnel Committee is Workman’s Comp,  FICA, HRS contributions, and the 27th payroll in FY 23.

  1. (36) Electricity: will our line budget cover the costs for this year, given the announced increase in rates across CT (from Eversource in January “A customer using 700 kWh per month will see about a 48% or $84.85 increase to your total bill compared to December’s bill.”)? If not, how much does a current projection with the higher rates exceed the budget? Does B&G or FC shop for rates at least annually? If no, consider implementing this practice.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • We are experiencing much higher than expected electricity bills than what was projected in the budget.
  • Response from Stan McMillen: Solar output reduced this winter due to excessive cloudy days.
  • The proposed budget for 2023-2024 includes an amount over twice the amount budgeted this year.

Response from Lynn Dove B&G Chair – We shop for the best rates each time our contract with the electric provider expires.  Our electric contract expired this year and unfortunately had to sign up for a new contract when the rates were high.  We signed for the shortest contract possible in hopes that the next time the rates will be more favorable.  

MARKETING- Suggestions and Comments

  1. (21a) Ramp up publicity, especially social media. Use the town calendar. Use UUS:E lobby to advertise ourselves. Bring friends.
  2. (26a) More active with social media. 

Response from Paul Cocuzzo Communications & Technology: Mary Lawrence offered a workshop so that everyone in congregation can share.

  1. (31a) Increase membership and visibility.

MEMBERSHIP- Suggestions and Comments

  1. (16a) Having information about the costs of running UUS:E is very helpful. We need to increase our base of people, i.e., membership. Stan: New building was to grow our congregation. Hasn’t happened, but we’ve maintained, not increased numbers.
  2. (20a) Increase pledge and membership, we need to talk about it to others; used

Lion’s Club analogy.
3. (21a) Bring friends.
4. (31a) Increase membership and visibility.
5. (32a) Worship outside of Sunday morning? Welcome new people.

PLEDGES- Suggestions and Comments

  1. (9a) Income brackets on pledges do not go low enough. She can afford to increase her pledge by $1 per month and challenged others: What is YOUR dollar?”
  2. (10a) She will increase her pledge by 10%.
  3. (12a) She is unable to increase her yearly pledge. She encourages newer members with larger incomes to increase their baseline pledge.
  4. (14a) High donors have stepped in. Maybe we need a special campaign to contribute beyond pledge.
  5. (20a) Increase pledge and membership, we need to talk about it to others; she used Lion’s Club analogy.
  6. (27 a and b) Capital campaigns have accomplished a lot; pledge increase won’t address building reserves.
  7. (28a) Pledge increases, then capital campaign. We need both.

REVENUE STREAMS-Suggestions and Comments

  1. (2a) Put PayPal QR code on Screen. UUS:E store (once a month)
  2. (3a) Can we rent our facilities out for outside groups? Can we increase it? We NEED to build RESERVES and STOP deficit spending! Endowment campaign.
  3. (4a) Can we rent out the kitchen for events?
  4. (6a) “Co-house” with another congregation that does not have a home so they can share our expenses.
  5. (6b) Consulting fees (e.g., Josh/UUSE model of shared ministry) and/or sale of curriculum.
  6. (6c) Online merchandise, especially message in line with UU values, available for anyone to purchase.
  7. (6d) Rental of our building/grounds as a retreat center. 
  8. (8a) Are there opportunities for building rentals to community groups? Do we get contributions from present community groups? Increased use would partially be offset by greater wear and tear. (Jane raised this question in person).
  9. (15a) Is there income from outside the congregation for building rental?

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • $2,100 comes from building rentals. Other smaller amounts are also earned from concerts, equal exchange sales, and gift card sales.

Response from President/Peggy Webbe:  We have a committee that is already working on plans to rent the building for weddings, funerals and perhaps other events.  We are interested in hearing of members/friends ideas and also having volunteers sign on to promote these activities.  We are also interested in establishing a second committee to explore and spearhead implementation of other ideas.

  1. (17a) Building is a great place for neuroscience research training. Response from President/Peggy Webbe: I’m interested in hearing more about this idea.
  2. (19a) Can we apply for grants for programs? Response from Stewardship/Stan McMillen: Need grant writers.
  3. (23b) Would like to see more building rentals and expanded programming.
  4. (24a) Would a 10% increase across the board take care of the deficit?

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • 10% would come close to covering just the deficit, but would not be sufficient to set aside funds for building reserves.
  1. (27a and b) Capital campaigns have accomplished a lot; pledge increase won’t address building reserves.
  2. (29a) UUS:E store once per month selling mugs, t-shirts, coasters, bumper stickers, masks, etc. All should buy Fair Trade coffee, tea & chocolate.
  3. (30a) Book cart offers free books; make a donation to UUS:E.
  4. (33a) Donate for coffee after service.
  5. (34a) Marketing the church for weddings and memorials.
  6. (37) Use PayPal and Venmo to take donations

Response from President, Peggy Webbe: See response above #9 under Revenue Streams.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • This has been in place for a while.
  1. (37) Sell obsolete sound equipment.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • This recommendation was recently approved by the Policy Board and the effort is underway.