2007-06-07 / Front Page

Town budget passes without fanfare

By Tom Shevlin

Just over 70 residents gathered at the Lawn Avenue School on Monday night to vote in the town's annual Financial Town Meeting.

In proceedings that lasted just thirty minutes, Town Moderator James Donnelly guided town offi- cials and residents through a swift and unanimous vote to approve the town's $19.8 million budget. Town Administrator Bruce Keiser remarked that the low turnout must be a reflection of residents' satisfaction with the proposed budget, which had been worked on during a series of three public workshops in March.

The budget, which will go into effect at the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1, 2007, represents a 4.53 percent increase over the current year's $18.9 million tab and falls well below the 5.25 percent limit on property tax increases adopted by the state.

The tax rate, which will be officially certified next week, will be between $7.85 and $7.90 per $1,000 of assessed value, or almost $1.50 less than the current year's rate.

However, that number doesn't represent a tax cut.

The town's tax rate, which currently stands at $9.49 per $1,000 of assessed value reflects a median household value of $384,000. The new number follows a 22-per- cent increase in median assessed household value to $476,000. Had the town not conducted a re-evaluation, the year-to-year increase would have been set at $9.82 per $1,000 of assessed value - or about 3.5 percent higher.

In real dollar terms, that means a homeowner will pay about $33 more for every $100,000 of assessed value or approximately $160 more for a $500,000 property $240 for a $750,000 property, and $320 more for a $1 million property.

This year's total budget combines town and school spending for a gross total of $19,846,185 with $11,698,616, or 58.9 percent allotted for education and 41.1 percent, or $8,147,569 going towards general government expenses. The current fiscal year budget is $18,987,026, with $10,417,523 for education and $7,029,833 going towards general government.

School Committee Chairwoman Catherine Kaiser reported that the school committee unanimously supported the budget while also stressing the challenges faced by school officials to maintaining the island's high-performing schools in light of the descending tax cap passed last year by the General Assembly.

"The cost of sustaining highperforming schools remains the greatest challenge facing the school committee" Kaiser said. "We have entered new waters and are a bit like sailors who must be ready to move together to the new windward side to balance the boat."

According to Kaiser, the budget includes allocations for two new strategic half-time positions, a literacy coach and a math coach, while reducing staff in response to lower enrollment, including the elimination of the full-time position the dean of students. Kaiser also welcomed new superintendent Robert Power to his first Financial Town Meeting in signaling another cost-saving move undertaken by the school committee: the adoption of a new administrative structure of a part-time superintendent and on-site school management which has "required all members of the administrative team to assume responsibilities beyond their traditional job descriptions."

In addition, Kaiser reported that the school committee recently finalized an agreement to lease space at the Lawn Avenue School to Pathways, a teaching center that will open a satellite classroom for up to six autistic students, in order to generate additional revenue for the district.

In the only citizen motion of the night, Sav Rebecchi moved to amend the annual computer improvements allotment of $50,000 by a maximum allowed decrease of $9,999.99, saying that it was "an excessive amount to spend" on computer equipment or upgrades. Keiser acknowledged that the $50,000 line item was $30,000 more than in past years. He attributed the additional expense to the administration's move to the new town hall.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Councilman William Kelly noted that he had raised the same concern as Rebecchi in one of the town work sessions, but felt Keiser "had given a reasonable response," and it was decided to include the one time expense in the general budget rather than including it as a bond item.

The town's budget is composed of three main categories including operating expenses totaling $6,627,603, or an increase of $262,493; capital expenditures of $694,348, representing a decrease of $221,112; and debt service of $825,618 up $341,020 some of which will help pay for the new town hall project.

The school budget meanwhile consists of operating expenses totaling $11,101,000, or an increase of $454,589; a $56,000 increase in capital spending to $176,000; and a decrease in debt service of $3,384 to $421,616.

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