ADAMS, Mass. — The Finance Committee and Select Board held the first of four meetings Monday to review department budgets for fiscal 2024.
The total budget for next year is estimated at $17,463,948, up about $476,975, or 2.8 percent over this year. The main drivers of this increase are hikes in health insurance, contractual obligations, the operations of the wastewater system, and operating expenses.
The budget is largely funded by property taxes, about 74 percent, and unrestricted local aid is about $3 million, up $54,000, based on the governor's budget proposal. About 7.7 percent comes from local receipts and the administration is recommending $150,000 in free cash be used to lower the tax rate. This budget should leave the town with $234,503 in excess levy capacity.
"Essentially, the inflationary economic environment has resulted in a widespread increase in costs for materials and services," Town Administrator Jay Green wrote in his budget summary. "We have used a tactical approach to balance the need to control spending and keep up with the cost of providing municipal services."
The Finance Committee and Select Board were given an overview of the budget last week. Monday's meeting was a more in-depth review of Town Hall operations, including governmental and executive expenses, finance and technology, and employee/retiree benefits.
The boards will meet again Tuesday night at 6 p.m. in the Adams Free Library annex to go over Community Development, Public Works and the wastewater treatment plant. Next week, the agenda will cover Public Services and school assessments on Tuesday at 6:30 and Inspection Services, Public Buildings and Public Safety on Thursday at 6 p.m.
"I think for us, it's better sometimes to be asked just a few questions than for us to talk at you," said Green. "Because in our world, our budgets don't really change much, and we're very used to them. So it's helpful for us if there's something that we take for granted, you ask us about."
The board members took him up on it, asking a wide range of questions regarding spending and needs.
The assessor will see some increase in overtime as this is a re-evaluation year, said Assessor Paula Wheeler.
"Every five years, the state requires us to do a whole re-evaluation ... we do hire a consultant who comes in and does some of the work but it's a lot of data entry for us," she said. Funding for the re-eval is encumbered each year, she said, "so we don't have to come back every five years and say, 'hey, this is what we need.' So the money is in our budget right now."
The assessor also contracts with Bishop & Associates for assistance during abatement processes.
"If a business comes in and says my taxes are too high, they can file for an abatement. [Bishop] will assist us with that. So that if it ends up going to the [Appellate Tax Board], they will be there to assist us with that," Wheeler said."They helped with the assessing of the higher commercial buildings."
In answer to questions, Wheeler said the assessors had received 10 abatement requests each in the last two fiscal years. Of those, nine total were approved with the rest withdrawn or rejected.
Green said there has been quite a bit of interest in Adams and noted a number of investments being made, including the openings of Miss Adams Diner, Firehouse Cafe and the Adams Tavern under new owners or management.
Treasurer/Tax Collector Kelly Rice is budgeting for an assistant treasurer in her office. Her current clerk is designated a financial assistant and so does not have the authority to handle certain duties or take higher level state training.
"Kelly has been requesting now for several years that we consider just retitling the position to assistant treasurer/collector, which in turn would add more duties to the position and allow the position also to obtain certain training that would allow for better continuity of operation in her office," said Green.
The request had been approved by the personnel subcommittee of the Board of Selectmen.
Rice also updated the boards on tax takings to date. When she started in 2015, there were 110 and the town is now down to 56. About 10 properties were sold over the last year and the town also did a tax sale.
"A lot of them have been paid off," she said. "A lot of them have been paying it off, doing it every single month and they've done well. A lot of them have taken themselves out of tax title."
Green wanted to thank residents for being very diligent in paying their property and excise taxes because it has a positive impact on the town.
"We have very high collection rate in town on all tax matters, which helps us with our cash flow tremendously because a lot of the grants that we deal with, sometimes you have to pay them upfront so you get reimbursement back," he said. "It's very important for us to have a healthy, healthy cash flow. So we thank our residents for being very diligent."
Town Clerk Haley Meczywor pointed out her operating expenses at $4,850 hasn't changed: "This is my 13th year and it has not increased in 13 years."
Election costs are up, though, and Meczywor budgeted $1,800 to account for mail-in voting for two elections next year — the presidential primary and the town elections. The state pays for the inner envelope mailed back to the clerk but mailing the ballot out at 84 cents each is picked up by the town.
Green said he is looking into a postal machine that will be able to track mailing costs for each department so to better estimate the costs each year.
The retirement/benefits assessment is up 2.37 percent at about $1.6 million. Retirement Board Administrator William Flynn said the assessment is broken down between the different units, including the school, the Fire District, the Northern Berkshire Solid Waste District and the Housing Authority.
"The retirement assessment itself is calculated by the state actuary and the bad news for all of us is that we are on a mandated funding schedule to be fully funded by the year 2038," he said. "So every two years we have an actuarial valuation that's done. That calculates basically how much money is needed to run the retirement system."
The bad news, he said, is that it's a 7 percent increase per year until fully funding in 2038.
"At that point, it's going to be a different ballgame for all the towns," Flynn said.
Town Accountant and Financial Director Crystal Wojcik outlined some of the cybersecurity work being done to protect the town, including cybersecurity coverage.
"The requirements are increasing in order to retain your cybersecurity insurance," she said. "One of the things that they want to do is implement multifactor authentication endpoint detection systems."
The town is budgeted for a $13,000 backup system and is having the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission assess the current security apparatus and provide recommendations. Another program being worked on through the Community Development Office will stress test the system.
"Once we get our recommendation from the other program, we implement the changes, the second program is going to come in and do a mock cyber attack on what we've implemented," said Wojcik, adding she is being aided by a Community Development staffer with computer programming background. "When I'm not doing accounting, I'm doing cyber security."
The town is also using $28,000 it gets through its Spectrum contract to fund two projects: internet service at the new Greylock Glen outdoor center and a telecommunications attorney to aid in renegotiating the Spectrum contract. Also on the horizon is a state requirement that branch telephone systems be able to inform 911 of the extension being used. Green said the current telephone system would have to "be completely scrapped" but doesn't feel the town is ready for that yet.
Debt service is up 8.75 percent, at $644,678 for fiscal 2024. This includes the first payment of $57,195 in short-term borrowing for the wastewater treatment plant but the old debt service for the plant expires in 2025. It also includes the Town Hall, police station and library loan that expires in 2028, and the $2.5 million borrowed to address the damage caused by Hurricane Irene. The debt exclusion for the new Hoosac Valley High School is up about $20,000 at $683,051 and is halfway through its 20-year payoff.
The town's debt ratio is about 3 percent, which Green said was very good.
Selectman Joseph Nowak had objected that the stipend given to board members was too low for the work being done. "I feel very slighted," he said, noting town personnel were getting raises.
The stipends had been reduced across the board as a part of cost-cutting measures at the beginning of the pandemic, which also included furloughing town employees for months. Selectwoman Christine Hoyt and Chair John Duval indicated they were not in favor of raising them and Hoyt noted that when they had looked at the stipends, "they were all over place" with some boards getting more than the selectmen and other less.
The Finance Committee offered to do some research into stipends and come back with recommendations.
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Adams Theater Welcomes Comedian and Violist
ADAMS, Mass. — The Adams Theater will present a comedy variety show on June 3 starring Isabel Hagen, a stand-up comedian and a classically trained violist who has appeared on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon.
According to a press release, in this performance, Isabel explores self-doubt, consciousness, and sexuality while tackling big questions like "what does it mean to be happy?" and "what's a viola?"
Isabel Hagen was named a New Face of Comedy at Montreal's Just for Laughs Festival in 2019. She made her debut performance on "The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon" on March 11, 2020, and was the last comic to perform before the quarantine. Her second appearance on the show was on October 26, 2022. This performance is not to be missed!
Berkshires-based professional comedian Charlie Nadler will be the opening act for this show.
Gianna Pesce scored five goals and assisted on two more Wednesday to lead the Mount Greylock girls lacrosse team to a 19-2 win over Pope Francis in the title game of the Western Massachusetts Class B tournament. click for more