2012-04-26 / News

Council adopts $21.6 million budget

If voters don’t revise the proposal at June’s FTM, increase will be $394,220
BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

The Town Council this week adopted a $21,586,065 budget for Jamestown’s schools and municipal operations. The spending package, which is 1.9 percent higher than the budget for the current fiscal year, will be presented to voters at the Financial Town Meeting on June 4.

The budget was passed during the council’s brief, special meeting on April 23. Unless the budget is modified during the FTM, town and school spending will increase by $394,220 during fiscal year 2012-13.

The School Department’s share of the budget is $12,384,378, which is 0.2 percent less than its fiscal year 2011-12 budget. The decrease is attributable to budgeting restraint and a decrease in the department’s debt service for construction projects.

The town’s share of the proposed budget is $9,201,687, or 1.51 percent more than it is in the current budget. The increase is attributable to higher debt-service obligations and some increases in capital spending.

After presenting a summary of the proposal, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser told the council, “This is a responsible budget and I urge you to adopt it.” The council responded by adopting the budget unanimously.

The 1.9 percent increase in the overall budget is slightly higher than the 1.82 percent increase that emerged from the council’s April 12 work session. The increase refl ects the addition of some capital spending, along with a $1,900 increase in the total stipend paid to the town’s councilors – although the increase won’t kick in until the next council is seated.

Keiser told the Press that, according to surveys he has reviewed, “The annual stipends paid to council members in other communities are slightly higher, on average, than those in Jamestown.” (The town currently pays each of its councilors $1,800 per year, and slightly more to the council president.)

Because of the increase in total spending since the April 12 work session, there is potentially a slight increase in the upper range of the tax increase necessary to fund the budget for fiscal year 2012-13. Previously, it looked like the tax hike would be 12 to 13 cents over the current rate, which is $9.21 per $1,000 of assessed value.

It now appears that the increase could be 14 cents, although the final number won’t be known until the tax assessor certifies the total value of taxable property in Jamestown as of Dec. 31. The certifi cation, which is required under state law, will be issued by the end of June. However, an estimated (if uncertified) valuation will be available in time for the FTM.

A 14-cent increase would raise the property tax rate to $9.35 per $1,000 of assessed value, which, as a 1.9 percent increase, would be slightly higher than the 1.5 percent increases that the town has averaged over the last four years. Keiser told the council that this modest rate of increase is notable because, during that time span, the town has lost 5 percent of its revenue base through the loss of state aid and other revenue sources.

The town is fortunate that it won’t have to face a premium increase for its medical insurance policy during the upcoming fiscal year. Besides the level funding request from the schools, another reason the town has avoided a significant budget increase is that pension costs are “under control.”

In his remarks to the council, Keiser noted that much of the increase on the town side of the budget – or $194,774 of the $421,672 jump – is intended to pay for increased debt service. Debt-service costs are rising because the town will start to make principal payments on the bonds that paid for the highway barn, police station improvements and the acquisition of farmland development rights.

The town had deferred those payments to avoid the excessive tax-rate impacts that would have occurred if the payments had been added to those for the bonds, which financed Town Hall construction and wastewater treatment plant repairs and upgrades.

Another significant town-side increase was the addition of $25,000 to the annual $150,000 budget for police overtime. Keiser decided to propose that addition because the town has been spending an annual average of $180,000 on those overtime costs, and the increase brings that spending “in line with reality,” Keiser told the council.

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