TEWKSBURY – The Tewksbury Select Board met on January 11 at Town Hall for its first meeting of 2022. All members were in attendance; member Todd Johnson joined virtually via WebEx.
Council reviewed the proposed FY23 budget with City Manager Richard Montuori. The budget presentation is available for viewing on the city’s website at tewksbury-ma.gov.
Montuori explained that the budgeting process begins in November with city department heads, who are asked to establish department-level budgets, along with their top three funding priorities. Following the budget review, the budget was finalized; the finance committee will begin reviewing the budget before it is presented to the annual municipal meeting in may.
Budget expenditures for municipal and school services will total $127,110,820, an increase of more than $2 million over the previous year’s budget. Montuori added that other expenses will be detailed in the articles of the town meeting. Some numbers change from year to year, typically for state and county fees (such as mosquito control), regional transportation authority, and charter school assessment projections.
In FY23, the city will need to raise $130,004,992 to cover its expenses. A significant portion will come from property taxes. Property tax is the income a community can collect through property and personal taxes. The harvest limit is calculated by taking last year’s harvest, adding 2.5% and adding new growth.
Montuori said most of the new growth came from personal property and residential growth, without much commercial or industrial growth added to the tax base. The drawdown limit for fiscal year 23 is $103,385,526.
Montuori said if the tax change stays the same and home values stay the same, the average tax bill will go up by $190. However, he added that Town Meeting can choose to add money to the levy; in addition, home values are expected to increase by 6-10%.
Montuori explained that in order not to have a tax increase, the city cannot increase the levy at all; if the tax is not increased, the city must cut general and school budgets and cut services, which “would impact education, public safety and overall service delivery,” he said. said, adding that it would be extremely difficult to make cuts. debt servicing, snow and ice management, and solid waste removal without reducing the quality of life.
Montuori said Tewksbury sits solidly in the middle when considering property taxes from neighboring communities; no town has higher debt exclusions than Tewksbury due to a high number of projects. He added that the budget includes state aid at the current level of funding (over $17 million); historically, the governor comes in with a higher number, but sometimes the legislature increases or decreases the aid, and the exact revenues won’t be known until July.
“I’d rather be able to increase the budget than reduce it,” Montuori said.
Montuori said local revenue from motor vehicle excise tax, hotel/motel tax, restaurant tax, boat tax and penalties and interest is expected to exceed $9 million and increase from projected local revenue in FY22; he pointed out that budget revenues are based on constant revenues. Property taxes represent more than 79% of revenues.
The school department budget represents more than 50% of the budget; other areas of expenditure are police (17%), fire (13%), DPW (12%), fixed costs (13%) and exempt debt (10%).
Overall, the operating budget has decreased, but in some areas expenditures have increased, such as election administration, public administration and animal control.
The city has several priorities that are not currently funded in the budget, but could be included if funds are available, including additional staff for maintenance, DPW facilities and grounds, staff and training additional police and firefighters, van drivers for the council on aging, operating capital for the school department, and funding to keep city salaries competitive with other communities.
Montuori presented his five-year budget projection, sharing that the city is in “decent shape” fiscally. He wants to focus on recruiting employees in the years to come to hire quality staff.
“There are fewer and fewer people interested in some of the key positions we have” for qualified departments, he said, citing a drop in applications and difficulties in filling middle management positions.
Montuori noted that some things are beyond the city’s control, such as state and federal requirements and funding. Montuori said he plans to keep an eye on solid waste and recycling costs in the future, and hopes to bring the city to a Standard and Poor’s Aaa bond rating from its current AA+ rating.
Board members thanked Montuori for his comprehensive and detailed presentation. Council Chairman Jay Kelly praised the presentation and highlighted the collaborative process between city staff and the select council.
“I think it’s my ultimate role and responsibility to work with you on every line item,” he said. “I appreciate hard work.”
Todd Johnson, Board Member, highlighted the new DPW project, which will be a non-debt exclusion project.
“Don’t rush to judge, we don’t achieve this overnight. We will have plenty of time to discuss it,” he said. “Sticker shock or the knee-jerk reaction that ‘my taxes will go up significantly’ is not the case here. It’s a different approach to funding a needed project…this community doesn’t want to settle for substandard resources.
The complete presentation of the budget is available online at tewksbury-ma.gov.