NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

March 6, 2013

Selectmen asked to set priorities for next year's budget

WEST NEWBURY — What are the selectmen’s budget priorities? That’s what the Finance Committee wants to know.

With so much of taxpayer money already obligated contractually and otherwise, setting priorities for what remains for discretionary spending is critical, finance board member Joseph Uniejewski told town leaders during a budget discussion last week.

Starting tonight at 7, selectmen will meet at least three times this month to continue formulating a spending plan for the upcoming year. The board is also meeting on March 13 and 20.

A $166,000 shortfall in Finance Director Warren Sproul’s $13 million omnibus budget draft was quickly brought into the black when fire Chief Scott Berkenbush announced early in the discussion that the Board of Fire Engineers would withdraw its request for $100,000 to provide some full-time staffing for the fire department.

The fire engineers plan to resubmit the request at another time, after they more fully explore three different staffing models and look into possible grants, he said.

This savings, coupled with some adjustments to recoup unspent contingency money from the Board of Assessor’s tax abatement fund, resulted in a slight budget surplus by the end of Wednesday night’s discussion. But Sproul cautioned that the budget process is far from complete.

He noted that early estimates on new growth are between $41,000 and $78,000, significantly down from $145,926, $147,554, and $172,000 in fiscal years 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively. Fewer units selling last year at the Ocean Meadow Over 55 Housing development was cited as possibly contributing to the drop-off.

While Sproul’s draft factors in the state’s allowable 2.5 percent annual tax levy increase, the finance board is exploring options for lowering that amount. With taxpayers already poised to endure a “significant” tax increase due to capital improvements at the Page Elementary School, committee chairman David Archibald said his team is looking for ways to ease the burden a bit. Taxes are going up over $1 million even without the annual levy increase, which adds another $270,000, he noted.

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