Budget with 2.4% increase adopted
Taxpayers at the financial town meeting will vote for a proposed budget of $23.72 million for fiscal year 2017-18, an increase of nearly $548,000 from the current spending plan.
The measure from Town Administrator Andy Nota, which was adopted by the town council Monday night, represents a 2.36 percent increase. It passed 4-1 with Republican Councilman Blake Dickinson casting the dissenting vote.
The budget still must be approved by residents at the financial town meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 5 at Lawn School.
Dickinson asked if the town was comfortable spending over a half-million dollars more than the current year. “How did it get there? That’s a lot of money.”
Vice President Mike White disagreed. “It’s a transportation increase, we have to pay it,” he said. “We don’t have a choice. We have to take our children to school. If it’s more, it’s more. … It costs more for me to live each year, so why shouldn’t it cost the town more?”
Councilwoman Mary Meagher said the town typically pays attention to line items ignored by other communities, such as $75,000 for affordable housing.
“They put together a very good budget,” she said.
While Nota continually has telegraphed a 10-cent hike in the property tax rate, he brought good news to the councilors this week. With new information about the tax levy, Nota said homeowners should expect a penny’s savings. That means the tax rate would increase from $8.58 to $8.67 per $1,000 valuation. It still could go lower because Tax Assessor Ken Gray continues to crunch numbers.
“It’s definitely going to be 9 cents,” Nota said. “But I’m hoping it falls to 8.”
According to Nota, the main reasons for the uptick are $62,000 in lost revenue from the harbor commission’s reimbursement obligation for the East Ferry seawall and $130,000 in debt stemming from the $2.5 million borrowed for the fire department. Also, 2-percent raises for town staff and retiree obligations are driving the increase.
“This is the most transparent budget I’ve seen,” council President Kristine Trocki said. “I wholeheartedly support it.”
In response to criticism that the hike is higher than the inflation rate, Nota said it isn’t prudent to look at the consumer price index in a vacuum. Looking at a five-year stretch, he said the town’s spending is lower than inflation.
“We’re running behind the CPI,” he said.
Among the highlights, Nota pointed to strong property values that are continuing to reflect solid growth in the overall role value. The town has a net assessed real and tangible value of about $2.28 billion, he said. Also, the debt margin is only $7.5 million outstanding of a potential legal margin of $65.9 million.
“I know both the school and town worked hard for a number of months,” White said. “It’s done thoughtfully. It’s done carefully. Our job is to decide if they did it thoughtfully and carefully. And I’m completely confident they have.”
“Is the town getting good value for our money?” Councilman Gene Mihaly asked. “I think we’re getting very good governance for what we pay.”