NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 15, 2014

Mayor puts spending plan on table

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Mayor Donna Holaday this week submitted the city’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015, and city officials say public workshops will begin Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall to review and discuss the 381-page document.

The proposed budget is $56,251,306, which represents a 4.8 per increase over the previous year. Fiscal year 2015 begins July 1 and ends June 30, 2015.

The expenditure for education, including the Whittier Vocational Technical School, is slated to be $25,485,686, as usual the highest single budget item. It’s about an 8.1 percent increase over the current school year’s spending.

In a message to city councilors, Holaday said, “I am pleased to once again submit a balanced budget that does not include an appropriation of either free cash or stabilization funds.” Those two funds represent the city’s savings accounts.

The tax rate for the current fiscal year is $14.16 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for both residential and commercial property. City officials say the average property tax bill increased by $485 from $5,838 to $6,323. The average single family home value increased from $438,272 to $446,524.

The impact of the new budget on property taxes will be determined when the tax rate is officially set in late November/early December.

The budget shows a net gain of about 14 employees. On the city department side of the budget, there are some minor cuts or additions to several departments that roughly balance out. In the schools, 14 employees are being added, bringing the school department’s total to 473.3 positions. In total, the City of Newburyport will employ 737.2 positions if the budget passes as is.

The largest budget increase, percentagewise, is the Parks Department, which is seeing a 103 percent increase ($63,000). This is primarily due to the hiring of a fulltime parks administrator to oversee the city’s 19 parks.

The second-largest percentage increase is in the mayor’s office, where spending will increase just over 21 percent, about $49,000. This is due to a raise the mayor was granted in the new city charter (the mayor now earns $98,000), and the anticipated hiring of a part time grant writer.

Municipal leaders say they are continuing to seek new sources of revenue.

Finance officials offered some elements of optimism regarding revenue for the upcoming year, predicting $400,000 in new growth revenue, and an $161,531 increase in state aid.

Officials expect a $245,000 increase in local receipts, “in large part due to the implementation of a new fire box alarm annual maintenance service fee.”

The city is benefiting from revenue sources created in recent years, including paid parking (which includes fines) and a local meals tax (half of which goes to sidewalk and road repairs).

The city will have a tax levy of $48,326,355. About $2.5 million of that will fund the debt exclusion for the high school renovation, the public library renovation and building project, the development of a new Bresnahan Elementary School, renovations to the Nock/Molin school and design, and development of a senior center.

The council has scheduled public hearings on the budget and must act on it within 45 days of submission.

City officials say the council can reduce or delete line items (of the municipal segment, not the school portion) but it cannot add to any line items.

Municipal leaders say that budget workshops will take place at City Hall on the following dates: May 20, May 29, June 2, June 3 and June 5.