Town manager Richard Montuori presented a detailed budget presentation that included projections through fiscal year 2025. But that’s not all that residents should know.
1. The warrant for the Annual and Special Town Meetings, scheduled for May 2 and May 4, respectively, open today, Jan. 12, and close on Feb. 25 at 4:30 p.m. Residents may petition to put articles on the warrant by gathering 10 signatures. Articles must be reviewed by town counsel to ensure they conform with state laws and town bylaws. The town clerk’s office will advise interested residents on deadlines and provide examples; two citizen articles passed in October.
2. Lowell Five donated $3,000 to the town to benefit first responders. The money will go to the Fire Dept. for equipment and supplies for ambulances. Fire Chief Joseph Kearns will schedule a time to formally accept the funds.
3. For FY 2023, the town’s projected budget is $127,110,820, a reduction from FY22’s projected $148,737, 516 spending. Still, FY23 budget priorities not funded include additional staffing, training and overtime for the police department, fire department and DPW and staffing for the council on aging.
Residents can access town budget information here. Montuori says FY23 data will be posted soon.
4. The school portion of the general fund less exempt debt for FY23 is $64,197,438 versus $44,001,405 on the town side. A significant chunk of school funding goes to outplacements and school choice. In Massachusetts, families may enroll their children in schools in communities other than the city or town in which they reside. Tuition is paid by the sending district to the receiving district.
The school budget increase without exempt debt is $1,334,217; of that, salaries comprise $1,074,482, including cost of living, longevity and step increases and other contractual obligations plus three new school positions. There are no new town side positions planned.
5. Based on recent sales, Montuori expects average home values to rise between 6% and 10% in FY23. The numbers bear that out. In FY17, the average single-family home in town was priced at $358,079. This year is trending to $489,065.
6. Based on that growth in value and several debt exemptions approved by voters, the average tax bill rose from $5,840 to $7,434 this year. But the town is still below many surrounding communities.
7. One of Tewksbury’s four hotels is up for sale, and a second will potentially be converted to apartments. If both properties go offline as hotels, that would slash expected hotel/motel tax revenues in half. But meals tax revenue is projected to remain fairly steady.
8. As costs are rising, fees have stayed level. That may change as Select Board chair Jay Kelly asked the Town Manager to examine license and permit fees to see if there is a potential to increase those to coincide with the budget increase and shift some burden from taxpayers. Montuori responded that the town is currently looking at building permit and other fees.
“Taxes go up,” said Kelly. “License and permit fees can go up too to offset some of the budget increases.”
9. The town should expect to spend more running elections. Montuori expects costs to rise overall due to more ballot mailings, new election laws and new equipment to accommodate a complex reprecincting effort by the town clerk’s office in response to a redistricting plan that’s raised some hackles in town. And, there are three elections next year: a town election, state primary and state election.
10. A badly needed new DPW building — which has been under discussion for several years — is on track to be funded without a debt exclusion or Prop 2 1/2 override. Montuori said the revised plan is to renovate and reuse some of the existing building to lower costs, and he expects to bring the project to Town Meeting in October, funded within the existing budget.
Town Meeting has previously approved $2.2 million for design, plus expenditures for other associated costs. “This project is not new,” said Montuori. But some things have changed, including the per-square-foot cost of building given Covid-driven supply chain challenges and the requirements for the project.
“The school maintenance facility needs a home,” he said. “They have no home right now. The new elementary school took that home away. They’re renting space in town off of Washington St.”
Montuori expects more design input in the next three months.
The Select Board was supportive.
“I am incredibly proud of the fact that we are looking at funding a project of this magnitude within our budget and our tax levy,” said Select Board member Ann Marie Stronach. “This is a project that we cannot wait to do, and the longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost.”
Stronach did caution about the realities of trying to bring the old, and fairly decrepit, facility up to code.
“Sometimes renovation seems to be an approach that is going to be more cost effective,” she said. “It sometimes is not because of unforeseen things that are in the building that may be very costly.”
Select Board clerk James Mackey approved of the funding path outlined by Montuori.
“Finding ways to service that debt within the budget is huge and I think is a big first step to lowering our overall tax bill,” said Mackey. “Tax rates don’t increase that much. A large portion of our tax bill is from those exemptions. As those start to fall off, that tax bill will come down, and this is kind of a first step in righting that ship.”
Select Board member Todd Johnson concurred.
“The method that the town manager just described to fund that project, or potentially fund that project, is exactly what residents have asked us to try to do,” said Johnson. “Because of the history of support, for all the schools we’ve built, the fire station we’ve built, the library we’ve built, the Senior Center … this community does not want to settle for substandard resources. The evidence is there that our town supports this stuff. It is a quality of life issue.”
“The need is there,” said Kelly, who congratulated Montuori on an “excellent, excellent budget presentation.”
Closing committee reports include an Elementary School Building Committee meeting on Thursday from Stronach, a reminder from Johnson about the upcoming Zoning Bylaw listening session, a report from Mackey on the new town website and an acknowledgement from Board vice-chair Jayne Wellman of the work done by Tewksbury’s first responders, presumably including new recruit Officer Waffles.
“The only thing I’m going to offer tonight is that January 9th was National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, and you have the Board’s appreciation,” said Wellman.