Williamstown Projects Level Fiscal 2013 Tax RatesBy Andy McKeever
11:05PM / Monday, January 23, 2012
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Town Manager Peter Fohlin is planning to propose a budget that will not raise taxes.
"We started this process with an explicit goal of trying to figure out if we could construct a budget that did not increase taxes at all," Fohlin told the Board of Selectmen on Monday night. "All of the budget centers will have 2 percent more money available to them and it will require no increase in the Williamstown tax rate in the coming year... I don't think [that's] happened in the last 11 years."
Revenues in 2013 are projected to come in 2 percent higher, which will pay for increases for the three schools and Town Hall. Plus Berkshire Health Group, a health insurance joint purchasing group that the town is part of, negotiated to keep health insurance premiums for school and town employees the same. Fohlin said the town will have enough of a "cushion" for unexpected changes as well as provide the same level of service.
The town will have about $540,848 in free cash that will roll over into the next budget, according to Fohlin. Local meals, hotel and motel taxes are also expected to increase. State aid is expected to be level-funded.
"We have always applied all of the free cash that we have to lower the tax rate and then we tax the amount we need depending on the budget. We have so much free cash that we don't have to tax as much as we could," Fohlin said. "We already have their money so we don't need more of their money."
The 2014 budget, while far away, also may have a jump start. The town had expected a $200,000 deficit in the snow and ice removal line item but this winter has been mild compared to last year. If it continues, the deficit paid in 2013 will be lower and more than expected will roll over into 2014. Additionally, the Berkshire Health Group's negotiations this year include a one-month holiday that Fohlin said he will put into the free cash fund next year.
The expected budget, which will presented on Feb. 13, is a stark contrast to just eight years ago. Town officials then expected to shoot for a Proposition 2 1/2 override every few years to tackle $600,000 or so structural deficit. But when state aid was cut by nearly $600,000 in 2004, taxpayers passed an override that eliminated the deficit.
"When the state killed our state aid by $596,000 and the Williamstown taxpayers stepped in and filled that gap, the schools and Town Hall promised to level fund our budget that year as part of the whole bargain. When we level funded that year, it permanently changed the growth of the budgets and it caused that structural deficit go away because our spending habits, our appetite, was reigned in that year," Fohlin said. "It sounds illogical but they cut local aid and when they did, our deficit went away."
He added, "the simple answer is, we've lived within our means and we continue to do so."
The town manager's report can be found here.
Williamstown, Mass., Revenue Projections