WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Even in a budget with a $97 increase in town-related expenses year-to-year, there are anomalies where individual line items show big increases.
One example where costs are out of the town's control: advertising public notices of town meetings.
"We're obligated by state law to do print advertising, and The Berkshire Eagle knows this," Town Manager Jason Hoch explained to the Finance Committee last week. "We continue to see these costs escalate. Some of that, we're able to pass through to applicants … but for some hearings, you don't know if there are going to be one, two or three things on the agenda, and you don't want to stick it to the person who wants to put a deck on their house.
"On the other end, we have adjusted some fees. There's slightly more revenue offsetting this."
But the unfunded state mandate to post legal notices in "a newspaper of general circulation" adds up. Williamstown's Zoning Board of Appeals in 2017 was $2,250 overbudget for advertising, and the fiscal year 2019 budget line sees a commensurate 33 percent increase, from $3,900 to $5,200.
None of those numbers are going to break the bank on a $21 million budget, but it is one of the costs that is out of the hands of town voters, who will be asked to approve the budget at May's annual town meeting.
"From time to time, suggestions come up at the State House [to eliminate the newspaper subsidy], but the Boston Globe cartel in the eastern part of the state thwarts that all the time," Hoch told the committee.
The Finance Committee on Wednesday held the second of its winter sessions to review budgets for the town's various cost centers in advance of making its recommendation to town meeting. Hoch followed up on his Feb. 21 presentation by presenting his spending plans for the Milne Library, the Department of Public Works, Veterans Affairs, Community Development and capital improvements.
Wednesday's presentation also included the town's facilities budget, one place where Williamstown is starting to see savings from the town-owned solar project on the capped landfill off Simonds Road.
The electricity budget for town facilities in FY19 is down by about 10 percent, from $20,253 to $18,304.60.
"We've started dialing back electricity expenses," Hoch said. "I expect as we get a year's or two years' worth of data, we'll have a better sense of what those numbers look like. The solar array just came online in November. These are not necessarily the most indicative months of what that performance will be."
Staying with Mother Nature, the town already has blown through its FY18 budget for snow and ice removal — one of the few areas where municipalities are allowed to deficit spend.
The $166,863 budgeted in FY18 stood at $310,728.15 (180 percent in the red) as of last Wednesday, before Friday's storm.
A couple of items of note for town residents, the 2019 budget forecasts no increase for the water and sewer rate and no change in the per-bag cost or sticker charge to use the town's transfer station.
The town plans to spend about $625,000 from its general fund on capital projects in FY19, highlighted by paving projects on Luce Road ($278,000) and Thornliebank Road and Circle ($152,000). Another $214,000 in capital improvements will be paid for out of enterprise funds: $84,000 for sewer replacements on South Street, $40,000 for the replacement of sewer pump stations on Cold Spring Road and $90,000 for replacing a water main on Walden Street.
Another capital project — a $250,000 renovation to the lobby and main circulation area at the library — is being funded from private donations. Library Director Pat McLeod told the Fin Comm the project, which involves removing large brick pillars from the entrance and circulation hub, will increase efficiency in the space.
McLeod said she expects the work to take about two months and require a two-week closure of the library.
"This is all non-operational and outside the town budget," McLeod said.
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