LENOX, Mass. — The town released results last week of a 2010 municipal services survey that found nearly half the respondents would support cuts to departments. It's the first time residents have been surveyed about town matters in years.
The purpose of the survey was to determine which services are of highest priority among residents as, according to the introduction of the questionnaire, the town faces "the prospect of either needing to reduce services to keep in line with the financial resources available" or seek "voter approval for a Proposition 2 1/2 override in order to increase our property tax revenues to pay for the services you want."
"The town did a survey back in the late '90s when it was developing its master plan. This is the first that we've done since then," said Town Manager Gregory Federspiel. "We are hoping to do one every year, maybe one short one and a longer comprehensive one every other year."
Property owners will pay $10.49 per $1,000 valuation this fiscal year, up from $9.92 in fiscal 2010 and up about a $1.50 from 2008. The commercial rate is $14.02, up from $13.50 in 2010.
Nearly 1,800 surveys were distributed via town utility bills and saw a return rate of roughly half, a relatively good turnout for any public survey (or special vote for that matter). While the respondents are overwhelmingly satisfied with the municipal services provided by the town (901 satisfied versus 54 not satisfied), many saw the need for cuts in services.
When asked if the cuts should be the same percentage across the board or different percentages, 412 were in favor of across-the-board cuts while 487 wanted to review services and make cuts based on priority needs. Service-reduction votes varied by department, which included administration, education, elder services, road maintenance and plowing, library, inspectors, public safety and youth programs.
Those who wanted to reduce services such as road maintenance, safety and elder services were relatively few (under 100), but more than twice that indicated a desire to reduce services such as administration (234 total).
In addition to administrative cuts, respondents also preferred to cut education (144), library services (187), zoning/planning (222), inspectors (132) and youth programming (115).
Based on the above information, it's not surprising that 547 people voted against a property tax increase of more than 2.5 percent, which would supposedly allow the town to avoid service cuts altogether to the tune of just over "$100 for the average homeowner." However, more than 400 voted in favor.
"This one wasn't as directive as we'd hoped," said Federspiel. "One thing that did come through was that people still want the services they are getting. We just have to figure out how we can keep providing them."
He said the survey was done with the intention of including it in the "throngs of the budget process." As far as a possible override question, that is something the Selectman need to seriously discuss since the survey didn't elicit an overwhelming response either way.
However, it is clear that Lenox, like other Berkshire towns, is feeling the budget crunch in every corner.