By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — Mayor Thatcher Kezer announced that Amesbury will have $1,274,000 available in “free cash” for the coming year, which he said would be used on a number of road projects, infrastructure improvements and winter-related costs.
“Free cash” is a municipal finance term meaning the amount of unspent money left over from the prior fiscal year, which ended on June 30. The money can come from a variety of sources, such as unexpected revenue and costs that are lower than budgeted.
Kezer said he intends to spend $274,000 of the free cash on upcoming projects. The top priority will be to continue the road and sidewalk repaving efforts that began last year, and the mayor said he would dedicate $200,000 of the free cash to accelerate the paving timetable.
“I call it an acceleration because we already funded through the DPW budget as part of the operating budget to do so many roads and sidewalks, and with this free cash, it’s $200,000 over and above that,” Kezer said. “We’re accelerating the list as we go through, so we’ll see a lot more paving in the spring.”
In addition, $55,000 will be spent to repair the boiler at the Amesbury Middle School, which currently has a major component in need of replacing.
“They have a problem with a component relative to the boiler, and they need about $55,000 to do a replacement,” Kezer said.
Kezer said he wants to set aside an even $1 million for the winter, so the remaining $19,000 will go toward solar energy development in accordance to the wishes of the City Council, which has been pressing for an increased solar energy footprint in town.
“We’ll set aside about $1 million in free cash,” Kezer said. “That will handle any contingencies for the winter, and hopefully preserve as much of that as possible to roll over to the next year.”
Municipalities across the state often budget less money for snowplowing than it typically costs to provide the service. That’s because snow removal is the only budget item that state law allows them to overspend; the additional costs are paid later in the year with reserve funds.
This year’s free cash figure is slightly higher than last year, when the city started with roughly $1.2 million, Kezer said. The city used about half of the money to pay for road and sidewalk construction and for the one-time payroll appropriation resulting from the city’s new union contracts.
The remaining balance has been rolled over into this year’s pot.