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RTMs to vote on $103M spending plan

February 16, 2016

Walpole town spending has officially hit nine digits for the first time in town history.

Walpole Town Administrator Jim Johnson proposed a record $103 million spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1, during his annual “State of the Town” budget address early this month.

Johnson’s proposed budget includes about $84.6 million in operating expenses, a $5.7 million water budget, a $5.3 million sewer budget, and more than $7 million in recommended capital budget expenses, totaling about $103 million.

The $84.6 million in operating expenses represents an increase of about $3 million from the current year’s budget, and a total increase of about $20 million in five years.

The budget includes funding for several of the Board of Selectmen’s key priorities, including hiring two additional police officers and one new firefighter. Johnson said the addition of the new firefighter is intended to help reduce overtime costs. The two new cops will bring the police force up to 42 officers.

Johnson is also proposing to allocate about $1.1 million from the town’s “free cash” reserves to help pay for a new fire station. After voters overwhelmingly beat back a $20 million tax increase in 2014 to pay for new buildings, including a fire station – the largest proposed tax hike in town history – town staff set to work and discovered that the town already has plenty of money for new facilities. Selectmen hope to fund the construction of the new fire station with a bond through the existing debt budget, a plan adapted from the Vaillancourt Plan first proposed by Precinct 5 RTM John Vaillancourt in 2014.

The water and sewer budgets will see minimal increases this year, of about $100,000 each. The water department’s retained earnings, which represents the department’s reserves, is about $432,306 – a figure that Johnson indicated might be too low. “Going forward, I would urge the town not to allow water retained earnings to dip below $500,000,” Johnson said. Johnson is not recommending using any water retained earnings to fund this year’s water budget, and is proposing that the Water Department utilize long-term borrowing to pay for their major infrastructure projects in the coming years.

The sewer retained earnings balance is about $2 million. The sewer department will appropriate some of their budget this year to repair some of their pump stations.

The town will spend $30,000 for storm-water management, as part of EPA regulations that will require the town to develop a Stormwater Management Plan in the coming years.

The town’s insurance budget will increase to about $9.9 million, an increase of about 2.8 percent. This represents a $1 million savings due to changes in the town’s health insurance program last year, initiated by the late Precinct 4 RTM Tom Driscoll.

The school department’s share of the pie this year is proposed to be about $41.5 million, an increase of about $1.2 million, or 3 percent, from the current fiscal year.

The town will collect about $66 million through the property tax levy – about $2 million more than the current year. In contrast to many other Mass. communities, the town traditionally raises taxes up to the limit of 2.5 percent each year, because they can. The remaining revenue comes from a variety of other sources, including fees, water and sewer rates, and state aid.

Johnson’s proposed budget will be reviewed by the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen over the next two months. Town Meeting Representatives will have the final say on the budget, at the May 2 Spring Town Meeting, when they have the authority to reduce or rearrange some of the expenditures in the budget. RTMs do not have the power to increase the total spending figure unless they identify a funding source.


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