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$1 Million in Cuts Equals $70 Off Increase of Average Tax Bill, Says Cohen

Town Manager Paul Cohen
Town Manager Paul Cohen

Part Three of a transcript from the Jan. 6, 2014 Board of Selectmen meeting. For the full meeting, go here

7:51 p.m. to 7:53 p.m.

Hanson went back to the Lowell methadone clinic issue, asking the board if they wished to read the same letter from the previous hearing, which they agreed to.

Lane noted that three members of the Lowell ZBA are no longer on the board, with two being elected to the City Council and one resigning after the vote.

The next hearing will be on Jan. 13

7:53 p.m. to 8:16 p.m.

The board discussed budget issues, with Askenburg praising that the budget levy has not been raised for the past two years, with her then asking if that trend would be continued this year.

Cohen said that for 10 of the past 11 years, the budget has gone right up to the levy limit, and that the current average tax bill of $692 will go up again this year.

He went on to note what Finance Committee member Mary Franz said regarding application of free cash to lower taxes, saying that if free cash was not sustainable, it would just result in a larger jump later on.

Cohen added that additional funding would be needed for assessments to Nashoba Tech tuition, and much of the additional funding needed goes to Nashoba Tech and Chelmsford Public Schools, also noting that there would be additional funding needed for Middlesex Retirement, and trash collection.

Additionally, there are contractual issues relating to school and non-school municipal employees since until recently they were paid less than nearby towns and that negotiations with the two police unions are still under negotiation.

Cohen then said that government often lags in response to economic trends, saying that things are now better than they were in Fiscal Year 2009. He went on to say that this year will likely be a level serviced budget and asked when the issue of services would be addressed.

At this point, Cohen then talked about the issue of full-day free kindergarten on the table as well.

Askenburg asked if that was a “maybe,” but Cohen said that there would need to be a $1 million cut in the budget for residents to see an $80 raise rather than $150 raise in the average tax bill.

He also noted that Chelmsford’s average income is 50 percent above the average income for the state

Askenburg asked if this doesn’t include full-day kindergarten, with Cohen saying that it’s up to the School Committee to decide whether they would pursue the issue, that the only thing he and Town Meeting could decide was the funding levels.

Hanson then asked regarding additional funding requests from the school committee for establishing the program, with more explanation by Cohen and that a decision on whether full-day kindergarten with fees would be acceptable would be coming on Tuesday.

Askenburg said it was unfortunate that there was confusion over the issue, and then Hanson then said he would be in favor of the program is the added funding was limited, but not if it was an extra $1 million per year that they needed.

Cohen said this is the challenge he has saying that the Selectmen are divided on the issue, although Askenburg said that she was just asking a question and that the Board of Selectmen and School Committee were five months late on developing budgetary goals along with the Finance Committee.

She hoped that next Fiscal Year, the three boards could meet in August rather than being reactive late in the process.

Wotjas then discussed the topic of Other Post Employment Benefits, or OPEB, saying that if OPEB is going to be a recurring expense, that it should be in the budget.

Cohen said that members of the Finance Committee were also concerned and that there would be a line item, although there would need to be an allocation of $1 million from free cash to the line item, saying that free cash that is not certified cannot be appropriated.

Askenburg asked what would happen if there wasn’t $1 million, with Cohen saying that would result in an unbalanced budget, which would result in further problems.

Cohen also said that property tax assessments are also currently in flux, which may affect the process, saying that there will be an increase in tax rates, but he is unsure what it will be due to that since the assessment process is completed by the state at the end of the summer.

He also noted that the snow and ice budget is a significant source of free cash, and that a third of the budget had already been expended.

Askenburg asked if there would be another update on Energy Savings Performance (ESCO) Contacts at the next meeting.

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