SHUTESBURY – After back-and-forth discussions at Saturday’s annual town council about using more free cash to clear bills to taxpayers, voters finally approved a budget of $ 6.63 million.
Other articles that sparked discussions in the area behind the town hall, both of which were approved, authorized the city to apply for a grant to build the library and to ask the legislature to propose law creating property tax exemption for eligible Shutesbury seniors.
Although the budget was changed and cut by $ 300 to remove the “longevity bonus” item from the city clerk’s category after the retirement of City Secretary Susie Mosher, the crux of the discussion centered on two items suggested by some voters, out of free money finance. One of these was the “Capital Stabilization Transfer” item for $ 112,695; the other $ 50,000 for Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB).
Planning council member Jeff Lacy initially moved to take the $ 112,695 out of the free money, a proposal endorsed by finance committee member Bob Groves and broadband committee member Steve Schmidt.
“With a view to our total reserves, I think that financing from free money is the way to go,” said Schmidt. Finance Committee chairman Jim Walton had stated at the beginning of the session that if all articles were passed on Saturday, it would bring the city’s reserves to approximately $ 1.5 million, most of which was in free cash originates.
Ultimately, moderator Paul Lyons decided the proposal and the subsequent proposal regarding OPEB to be “out of scope” and did not want residents who did not attend the annual city meeting to be excluded from the discussion about such a large transfer. Councilor Donna MacNicol said the decision will depend on whether citizens have been adequately warned that such a change could occur.
“Once you start making $ 112,000, the question is whether citizens felt any warning, and that’s entirely up to the moderator,” she said.
“The whole reason for the town meeting is that you have to be here to make decisions,” argued resident Mike Vinskey. “Whatever it is, if you’re not here, it should have been you.”
After the budget was passed by a majority with the amendment of $ 300 in Article 4, the same question arose in Article 5, which was about the construction of a culvert at the intersection of Locks Pond Road and Lake Drive by borrowing up to to $ 201,007 (a post-offering number changed about $ 300,000 less than expected), $ 250,000 from capital stabilization, and the remainder from unused Municipal Small Bridge Program grants. Vinskey suggested using free cash instead of borrowing, an idea Groves repeated.
“I don’t know anyone in this city who doesn’t want to complete the culvert repair as soon as possible, but the only disagreement is how to fund it,” said Groves, encouraging the city to “use the reserves for their intended purpose.” .
“As a taxpayer, I would like to pay for it from the reserve fund,” agreed resident Diane Jacoby. “Let’s not borrow again. We have the money, let’s make the culvert. ”
Local residents were encouraged by Lyons and MacNicol to contact the finance committee or submit civic petitions prior to the city assembly. Resident Dina Stander encouraged everyone to find out about citizens’ petitions, how they are submitted and how many signatures are required.
The culvert replacement and associated borrowing was approved, with the understanding that the $ 201,007 bid would be lost and the work would not be carried out in fiscal 2022 should it fail.
Within the $ 6.63 million budget, which is about 0.4 percent higher than the current budget, one of the key changes was a 4 percent decrease in the Amherst-Pelham area public school budget, both due to the cuts of the school district budget and, based on the decision of the voters in Article 2, to use a different calculation formula that takes into account the solvency of a city and not just the number of school enrollments per student.
Aside from long discussions about the budget, a majority of voters passed Article 9, which empowered the Selectboard and / or library administrators to apply for a grant through the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program’s Small Library Pilot Project to design and build a new one to pay library.
Mary Anne Antonellis, director of the MN Spear Memorial Library, spoke about the grant and need for a new library, a project the city has been discussing since 1995 and has been saved for over $ 500,000 since 2012. Although Vinskey raised concerns about the timing of the vote, not knowing what a new library would look like, what it will cost, or where it will be, several residents reiterated their support for Antonellis and the library.
“For my children, for me, the library was such a community center,” said resident Suzanne Palmer, citing her various programs such as author talks, ice cream socials and fitness classes. “The fact that we can do all of this with such a small library without running water is a testament to how much everyone here cares for the library and how much we could do with a library with running water and toilets.”
Planning committee members Lacy and Michael DeChiara encouraged quick action while a small-town library grant is available.
“Let’s get started,” Lacy said. “If we’re the first to get in the door with the (Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners), we’ll have more power because we’re Johnny on the ground.”
Tax exemption for seniors
Following lawsuits from nearly 20 other Massachusetts communities, voters voted to petition lawmakers to promote law that would provide property tax exemption for eligible Shutesbury seniors.
Administrative Assessor Kevin Rudden stated that there are two Massachusetts tax exemptions for seniors, $ 400 and $ 1,000. Should the bill pass in legislature, the Selectboard could offer an additional 50 to 200 percent of the priority circuit breaker tax credit, adding that benefit between $ 575 and $ 2,300.
The program is unlikely to take effect until fiscal 2023. Rudden said the Selectboard would take applications from seniors each August and discuss the amount required in October before setting the tax rate. Based on the 2017 numbers, around 29 seniors are expected to qualify.
“We don’t know what that will cost until October / November,” said Rudden, referring to the program’s increase in the property tax rate for the remaining residents. “If this is approved, the town council votes every third year to continue it. … If you don’t like it, you just vote to discontinue it and it goes away. ”
Although Vinskey objected to how the money would be managed, with the Selectboard deciding how much seniors would receive and suggesting that the money be included as part of the budget rather than a surcharge in the tax rate, Rudden insisted on how the city should be transparent can, for example, share the number in the city report or add a note to the tax returns.
Passed all 29 items including:
■ $ 254,100 to replace the roof of Shutesbury Elementary School, along with up to $ 200,000 to upgrade the HVAC control system if grants are not available;
■ A proposal to hire a consultant to make suggestions on how to connect the path systems between the Southbrook Conservation Area and the Town Beach Conservation Area;
■ $ 20,000 from the Open Space / Recreation Fund to create a community garden behind City Hall;
■ And a change in the zoning regime that allows access to driveways in the inland Forest Conservation District.
You can reach Shelby Ashline at 413-772-0261, extension. 270 or [email protected].