Slight uptick on tax levy in FY17 budget
By Robert Fucci
Sutton Board Chair David Hall was happy to hear Town Administrator James Smith’s FY17 preliminary budget, saying he felt upbeat about it. Photo by Robert Fucci Sutton – Town Administrator James Smith had some good news during the Feb. 16 Board of Selectmen’s meeting while presenting the FY17 preliminary budget.
Smith asked for a budget of $30,097,468, which is less than a 1 percent increase from the FY16 budget.
Taxpayers will enjoy hearing that the tax levy increase will be minimal.
“The tax levy increased almost $660,000,” Smith said. “With the debt exclusion roll-off of $338,000, the actual levy increase was $329,000. This year, the tax levy only increased by 1.6 percent and that’s good news.”
Other budget changes include:
• Departmental: $20,556
• Employee benefits: $328,000
• Education: $620,000
• Debt service: -$580,000 ($338,000 debt exclusion roll-off).
“We have paid off $338K in debt exclusion debt which will lower the tax impact to FY17,” Smith said, adding $200,000 was the prepayment for the Manchaug sewer plant. “This continues to reduce our reliance on one-time revenues with the goal of eliminating the use of free cash.”
Smith reported over the past five years, Sutton has initiated a few projects that are generating revenue. Among them are rent from Manchaug Library ($12,000 to $25,000), health department regionalization ($10,000 to $15,000) and solar panels ($100,000).
“We are putting town-owned buildings to use and we’re getting revenue from it,” Smith said.
But even with all this additional revenue, the budget deficit is at $113,000.
“Our challenge now is to close that gap,” Smith said. “As soon as we do that we’re structurally balanced. That’s been our focus the last couple years.”
Sutton is also creating an opt-out provision in the Town’s health plan. The provision states the town will pay an employee that opts out of the family plan $3,000. Individuals would receive $1,500.
The Town is currently surveying the employees to see how many will opt out. The Town makes $12,000 for every employee who opts out, Smith said.
Commonwealth law gives the Town the power to make the change, Smith said, adding he’d rather use a friendlier tactic to make the change.
“I’d rather work with unions than work against them,” he said.
“To have open discussions rather than do a bullying job is important,” Chair David Hall said. “I like the effort and I like the direction.”
Smith said overall Sutton has a solid stabilization fund, funding the other post-employment benefits trust, a five-year capital plan funded by the capital stabilization fund and using a limited one-time money for recurring costs. He added the School Department is closer to having a sustainable budget with good class sizes.
“The cost per student is going down,” Smith said. “We’ve eliminated teaching positions last five years, but the last two years there were few.”
Hall was enthused about the overall presentation.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a preliminary budget presentation that felt this upbeat,” he said. “Things are coming together.”
Smith said he will post the budget to the Town’s website in early March.