By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — Mayor Thatcher Kezer unveiled his new $59,016,377 budget for the next fiscal year to the City Council at Tuesday night’s meeting, confirming that the city’s tax rates will almost certainly rise again later this year.
The budget includes the city’s enterprise funds, which include the Sewer Department ($2,790,362), the Water Department ($3,815,093) and Landry Stadium ($9,000). Without the three enterprise fund expenditures, the city’s operating budget comes in at $52,401,923, a 1.8 percent increase over the current budget.
The new budget represents a 2.7 percent increase over last year’s $57,438,596 budget, or a total increase of $1,577,781. Kezer also said there would be an estimated levy increase of $1,054,000, bringing Amesbury’s citywide property tax total to $36,978,410.
Kezer said the city is also projecting a $5 million to $10 million decline in total property values this year, and assuming the final numbers fall within that range, he is expecting the tax rate to fall between $20.89 and $20.95, up from the current tax rate of $20.24.
In order to maintain the current tax rate given those projected losses in property values, Kezer said the City Council would have to cut $1.2 million from the proposed budget, and in order to move the tax rate below $20, it would take $1.6 million.
Out of the $941,432 total increase in the operating budget, $800,000 can be traced to the school system. The increase is actually more than $1 million less than the amount approved by the School Committee last month and $1.5 million less than what was initially requested.
Assistant Superintendent Deirdre Farrell said the schools have not yet identified how they will reconcile those numbers and will present more details at next Tuesday’s School Committee meeting.
“The School Committee voted a budget that was $1.88 million more than FY13, of which the level service component was $1.5 million, and early on we knew the numbers wouldn’t match,” Farrell said. “So we’re looking at reductions to meet the budget number of $800,000.”
The remaining $141,433 increase on the city side represents a 0.56 percent increase over the current budget, with most of the increases coming from community and social services like the library, veterans services and the Council on Aging, as well as in the Community and Economic Development office, which just added a new deputy director.
The budget also takes into account significant public safety savings made possible by the impending opening of the new regional dispatch center in Middleton. The city will save $544,059 on public safety communications, and Kezer said some costs like the expenses for prisoner watch and walk-in traffic will be absorbed into the police budget, resulting in a net savings of $238,125.
Including those absorbed expenses, the police department’s budget will increase by $354,528 while the fire budget will only increase by $28,357. The public safety communications savings are a part of a separate line item.
This year’s budget also marks a return to the normal fiscal payroll cycle after an anomalous 27th payroll fell within this past fiscal year. The extra payroll period forced the city to appropriate $400,000 in free cash to cover the extra expense, but that won’t be necessary again until 2020.
Over the next month, the City Council will meet with each of the city’s department heads to review their budgets. The first hearing will be held Monday night, when the councilors are scheduled to review the collector/treasurer, assessor, MIS, administration and finance, liability insurance, municipal buildings, Landry Stadium, central supply, outdoor lighting, sealer of weights, state and county assessments, reserve fund, employee benefits, debt service and other assessments’ budgets.
Then on Thursday, May 23, the councilors will review the Whittier Regional High School budget, schools, the mayor’s office and the legal services’ budgets. A week later, on May 30, they will look at the inspections, DPW, sewer, water, recycling/refuse removal and snow/ice budgets.
On Monday, June 3, they will move on to the library, Council on Aging, youth services, veterans, Community and Economic Development, Conservation Commission, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, regional health, city clerk, election/registration and City Council budgets.
Finally, councilors will wrap up the hearings on Wednesday, June 5, when they discuss the police, harbormaster and fire department budgets.
The Finance Committee will make their budget recommendations on Monday, June 10, and a final vote will be taken by the City Council following a public hearing on Tuesday, June 18.
FY2014 begins July 1 and runs through June 30.