ADAMS, Mass. — Town officials began their four-night public review of the fiscal 2018 budget at the Visitors Center on Monday night.
They are proposing a $15,567,135 spending plan for fiscal 2018 that represents a nearly $1 million increase over this year.
Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco lead the first in the series of budget hearings, held jointly by the Selectmen and Finance Committee. Monday's session covered the executive, finance and technology, general government, public health and the Capital Improvement Plan.
Tuesday's session will be on public buildings, public services and public works; Wednesday, the school budgets; and Thursday, public safety and the library. All sessions start at 6 p.m. at the Visitors Center. All budget documents can be found here.
Mazzucco said the town is running lean but the budget does not rely on reserves to balance it, that the town will once again increase stabilization, and that there will be no layoffs.
"We are fundamentally operating the town with less money than we were a decade ago," he said. "That is pretty incredible but it has not come without a cost to our staff, employees and services ... while that sounds like it is good news we are getting close to the breaking point and we can only nickel and dime so much more."
Mazzucco said he anticipates the average annual tax bill will increase between $80 to $90 and said any tax increase will come from assessment increases from Adams-Cheshire Regional School District and McCann Technical School.
"I am not blaming the schools but just so you know, the town budget was kept in that small increase we got from state aid so this tax rate increase will have nothing to do with municipal services," he said.
He walked the two boards through the executive section of the budget that will see a slight increase of nearly $14,000, from $483,424 to $497,397 in fiscal 2018.
This includes the lines items for Selectmen, town administrator, town counsel, moderator, Finance Committee, reserve fund and the town report. These budgets mostly stayed flat or had mild increases or decreases.
Mazzucco said he programmed in $60,000 line item in the Selectmen's operating budget as a placeholder for blight removal.
"We will be able to tear down another building this year," he said. "We are going bring together a slum and blight task force and we will figure out what building is going come down."
He added that having the line item will allow the town some flexibility when attempting to take down dangerous property that may be privately owned.
As for finance and technology, there will be a slight increase of about $55,000, bringing the budget from $1,691,206 this year to $1,746,594 in 2018.
This budget includes employee/retiree benefits, the accountant, technology, and property and liability insurance budgets.
Mazzucco said the employee/retirement benefits personnel budget has a 6.64 percent increase that will bump the budget up from $998,296 to $1,244,832.
Some of this increase comes from a $40,000 line item for compensated absences.
"We spent over $100,000 over the last two years in sick time payout ... we have to continue to replenish it until we no longer need it," Mazzucco said. "Once that cost is drained, that is a legal obligation and we would have to take the money from somewhere else. We are trying to build into the budget so we don’t have constant budget shocks."
He said employees hired before 1997 are eligible to receive payback for up to 50 percent of their banked sick days when they retire.
Employees hired after 1997 can only receive up to $5,000 in compensation while a pre-1997 employee could cost the town between $30,000 and $40,000.
Mazzucco said there are many retirements expected in the next few years, many that are pre-1997 employees and the town needs to be able to afford the compensation until they all cycle out.
After that, the compensations should be more manageable.
Currently, the town has a compensated absences fund that has around $100,000 in it. What is not spent from the $40,000 will go into the fund.
Mazzucco added that the employee incentives line item will also increase by near $20,000 to account for health insurance changes the town has made to save money. Because the town will see some savings, some funds must be turned back to the employees
"We are going to move to toward higher deductible plans down the road and we want to make sure the employees are familiar with how the plans work," Mazzucco said. "Our employees agreed without us having to force them to agree, so that was very big on them ... They understood where we were going and that we all had to make sacrifices but it means big, big savings for the town."
The town administrator added that pension costs are up $20,000 and the town will put $20,000 in the Other Post-Employee Benefits Fund.
The general government budget will also see a very slight increase of around $63,000, from $999,167 to $1,062,825 in fiscal 2018.
This budget includes inspector services, town employees and some boards and commissions.
The town clerk's budget will remain flat but with a $46,000 increase in the elections capital budget to purchase new voting machines. The town's current machines will become obsolete and will no longer be able to be serviced.
The Community Development personnel services budget will decrease 20.53 percent, which means the budget will decrease from $100,477 to $79,654.
Mazzucco said this is mostly because an employee who normally was under the Community Development budget is now under the inspections budget.
The building inspector personnel budget is slotted to increase 34.74 percent, from $155,993 to $210,184. Mazzucco said this change is mostly because of the shifting employee and the inspection services are now fully burdened.
The last budget the two committees looked at Monday night was the Board of Health budget that will jump from $17,935 to $19,660.
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