NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 16, 2013

Cost-saving efforts keep Newbury's free cash in the black

BY JENNIFER SOLIS
CORRESPONEDENT

---- — NEWBURY — Town finances have continued to stabilize over the past several years, reports Town Administrator Tracy Blais.

When Blais was hired in 2011, Newbury’s free cash was in the red by minus $130,659. “Since that time, we have increased this reserve to a high of $959,003 and this year to a balance of $848,263,” she told selectmen last week.

According to Blais, the actual revenues exceeded estimates by $135,000, due primarily to a larger than anticipated Motor Vehicle Excise Tax collection. Unexpended appropriation balances totaled $270,596 and included more than $77,000 in savings in the Board of Health line items due to a partnership with G. Mello Disposal Corp. to privatize the town’s transfer station.

“I’m very grateful for the Board of Health’s assistance in making this transition possible,” she said.

After voters twice rejected requests for tax overrides at the polls in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, Blais worked with selectmen to eliminate personnel and services in order to budget within the confines of Proposition 2 1/2.

This past year she implemented additional cost-saving measures and continued with an aggressive campaign to collect delinquent motor vehicle, motorboat, real estate and personal property taxes.

Selectmen Chairman Joe Story recognized the municipality’s department heads for efforts they’ve made to live within the constraints of a tight operating budget.

Blais agreed, noting that her department managers have also taken full advantage of available technology, creating more efficient processes that save both time and money. “They continue to exceed my expectations with regard to doing more with less,” she said.

Blais noted that other cost savings were realized through design changes in the town’s health insurance plan and a reduction in unemployment costs thanks to a lack of layoffs during the fiscal year.

During her tenure, Blais has recommended tapping the free cash reserves to fund several long-deferred capital needs. The town purchased firefighter protective gear, three police cruisers, two dump trucks and a Code RED notification system. Free cash also covered much-needed repairs to the Newbury Elementary School, Byfield library, Public Works facility and Town Hall. And it covered deficits in the snow and ice account.

Going forward, Blais said she anticipates that a good deal of the town’s reserves will be needed for planning and constructing a new public safety facility, a future project that will ultimately require approval by voters for a debt exclusion override.

“In the meantime we will continue to consider reorganizations that will strengthen our financial position and allow us to provide the best possible services to the residents of Newbury,” she said.