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Overall tax increase of 3.9 percent eyed for 2017-18

The Town Council is expected to set a $38.7 million combined municipal budget for next year to a May 8, 2017 public hearing.

The budget proposal, including town, school and county services, will mean a 3.9 percent increase in taxes, 68 cents over this year's rate of $17.54.

Councilors, meeting as the finance committee, reviewed the proposed $24.9 million school budget with members of the School Board and discussed overall budget implications at a workshop April 25. It was the last budget workshop before the May 8 hearing, with final adoption set for May 15. The school-budget validation election is scheduled for June 13.

The $12.2 million town budget proposed is approximately $35,000 less than what Town Manager Matthew Sturgis presented in March. Sturgis, who was town assessor before becoming manager in January, said the salary line for a new assessor will be less than budgeted; and, that approximately $25,000 unspent on tree work this year will be carried forward. Those spending adjustments, combined with some minor adjustments in budgeted revenue, will reduce the anticipated tax increase for town services by 1 percent, he said.

Jessica Sullivan, town councilor and chair of the finance committee, suggested the tax increases proposed for school and for town services each be reduced by 1 percent. "Given that we've had significant increases in rate over the years, and what projections could be for the 12 years out from now, I thought it was prudent to take a look at a smaller number," Sullivan said.

Combined tax-rate increases over the last 17 years have averaged 6.38 percent, Sullivan said. Over the last 10 years the average increase has been 4.9 percent. If the trend continues, taxes on a home valued at $300,000 in 2030 would be $2,856 more than they are today, she said.

The majority of councilors, however, were satisfied that the town-budget reduction would bring the increase proposed for 2017-18 under 4 percent, an amount that has historically been accepted by voters in the annual school budget validation.

Jamie Garvin, chairman of the Town Council, said that if not for an anticipated $800,000 reduction in state subsidy next year, the school budget as presented would actually mean a decrease in taxes. Curbing expenses is one way to address revenue shortfall, he said. "Or, the other way is to ask people, 'Is this something you want to spend more for, and if you're willing to do so, then vote that way,'" Garvin said.

Kathy Ray, another councilor, said she did not support the spending, citing discussion from past years that historical tax-rate increases are not sustainable. "Yet here we are, sustaining it," she said.

The budget amounts for the May 8 hearing will be set at a special meeting May 1, the same night as the council's workshop on a proposed resolution for welcoming all people. [news article]

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