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December 7, 2012

Finance leaders considering priorities for coming year

WEST NEWBURY — The Finance Committee this week offered selectmen a preliminary list of fiscal priorities as town leaders get set to kick off budget discussions for the upcoming year.

Finance Director Warren Sproul presented the one-page memo to selectmen at a meeting on Wednesday,, but the finance team still plans to meet again to finalize its list.

Finance Chairman Joe Anderson said after the meeting that his committee is concerned about the potential for increased taxes — coming in particular from three specific areas:

The Page School renovation project, which voters have already approved.

The need for additional improvements not already funded for Page.

Improvements to the high school and middle school over the long term.

The committee’s recommendations include ways to proactively mitigate the potential tax increases. One option is to use funds from the free cash account to retire items with higher interest rates that are coming due in the next three to six years.

“We can just pay off and remove that expense from the tax rate,” Anderson said, although he added that he personally did not favor paying off the lease on the Fire Department’s aerial tower truck because that was just recently refinanced at an attractive rate.

A comparison of actual expenditures versus budget estimates in town departments over the past three years would also help, the committee noted. However, it added that selectmen should be careful to look for trends in spending and not penalize a department for money that went unspent in its budget for just one year.

Finding additional ways to apply Community Preservation Act funds could also ease the burden on taxpayers, finance leaders said. Anderson said the feedback his committee is getting from residents is “that the town has a good deal of money in reserve — be it free cash, stabilization or CPA funds — that might be used to lessen the tax burden.

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