HANSON — A budget shortfall of nearly $2 million is expected to have a “system-wide impact” on most services and departments in town without an override, according to Town Accountant Todd Hassett.
The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, Jan. 26 heard a second-quarter budget update and previewed the fiscal 2022 budget with Hassett.
“We do have assumptions. Even if the assumptions come out better than where we are, it’s still a substantial amount that will be required in an override without a serious cut in services. That’s just where we are,” Town Administrator John Stanbrook agreed.
Stanbrook reported on Tuesday, Feb. 2 that the governor’s budget has increased Hanson’s anticipated state aid by $36,086, while state assessment savings came to $818 from what the town expected to be charged. The two amounts mean a $31,000 increase in state aid, and — coupled with assessment figures from South Shore Tech [see related story, this page] — the net effect is a $1,000 decrease to the town’s deficit, now at $1.985 million.
W-H Regional budget figures have not been officially released yet.
“At this time we’re anticipating, when all is said and done, we have a shortfall of just under $2 million, and a number of things are not formalized or finalized yet,” he said. “There are a lot of challenges and a lot of work ahead for us, but clearly, absent some level of tax relief via an override, we’re looking at some significant reductions that will likely involve staff and may involve less programming at the camp, it might involve having to close the transfer station a bit more.”
The largest question mark, at this point, are school budget requests.
“Many things are still in play,” he said in his budget forecast, which town bylaw requires by the end of January. The governor’s budget had not been released at the time Hassett presented the fiscal 2022 plan to Selectmen.
“We are faced with about a 7-percent increase in public safety expenses due to some of the demands for shift coverage and contractual obligations,” Hassett said. “The education budget is up, in our worksheets, over 12.5 percent.”
Formal budget requests have not been received as yet from either WHRSD or SST. Remaining budgets are up about 4 percent. The cost of state program costs is up about 2.5 percent.
Revenues are forecast at about $28 million.
Nearly 83 percent of Hanson’s budget is supported through property taxes, 5.5 percent by state revenues Hassett expects will be level-funded, and 7.5 percent through local revenues, also projected to be level-funded.
He said the maximum allowable levy limit short of an override had been calculated — $544,000 at the 2 ½ percent increase allowed under Proposition 2 ½. New growth revenues are expected to be about $100,000 higher than in fiscal ’21.
Debt exclusions on the police station and regional high school — about $600,000 in additional taxes — are also on the books, with the police station costs maturing in 2026 an the high school in 2028.
Ambulance receipts and septic funds will also be looked at to help balance the budget, Hassett said, as well as $231,000 from free cash.
With only 13 percent of the fiscal 2021 budget collected, Hassett said most revenues are tracking well, while on paper the excise tax receipts appear low by about $35,000 less than the same billing period last year.
“This was one of the indicators we were concerned about going into next year’s budget,” he said. “Data we get from the state shows a very aggressive depreciation schedule.”
Permits and departmental fees are holding steady. While this has been a financially difficult year for recreation programs across the state as programs and events had to be canceled because of COVID-19, Camp Kiwanee has a “strong spring” of wedding bookings at this point.
We’ll see how that plays out,” Hassett said. “The bookings are not what they enjoyed just a couple of years ago.”
The Kiwanee programs and capital improvements had to be subsidized from the general fund in the current fiscal year.