Sunday May 6, 2012

DALTON -- On Monday, Dalton voters will consider a proposed spending plan of $14.8 million for fiscal 2013.

A total of 23 articles and a question are on the annual town meeting warrant, which includes an increase of 2.3 percent or $335,018 more than the previous year’s spending.

If voters approve the spending plan, it would amount to a property tax increase of about 2.5 percent, from $17.41 to $17.84, per thousand dollars of value. Town Manager Kenneth Walto said that would amount to an annual increase $87 for the average homeowner.

The annual town meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday in the auditorium at Wahconah Regional High School.

Also among the articles is a proposal to approve spending and state grant funds to repave Kirchner Road., and proposals for the town to approve two new funds to help pay for costs related to employee benefits, including a reserve for unemployment compensation.

Most other costs, including salaries and wages of employees, and expenditures for most town departments, have been level funded.

"We’re right at the levy limit. So we’re trying to balance the needs of the town with the resources that we have," said Walto.

He also said that each year, the budget planning process is challenged by two unknown variables: the school district budget and contributions from state aid.

"This year we were pleased that the school district’s budget came in a lot less than we expected," said Walto.

The Central Berkshire Regional School District proposed increasing the town’s assessment by less than 1 percent, from $7.58 million this fiscal year to a proposed $7.65 million in fiscal 2013 for total appropriations.

The single question on Monday’s town warrant is to see if the town will exempt expenditures to pay for bonds related to fiscal 2013 capital improvement plans, including borrowing costs related to the purchase of a police cruiser, new highway equipment, an air conditioning unit for the Crane Meeting Room at Dalton Town Hall, the conversion of town hall burners to natural gas, the installation of insulation above town hall offices and the purchase and planting of shade trees in the town.

The actual proposal for these purchases, totaling $205,000, are listed in Article 16.

Walto said both Article 16 and Question 1 will have to be approved by voters in order for the town to borrow the money, and also to exclude the debt from the Proposition 21Ž2 provision to not increase property taxes more than 2.5 percent to cover the town’s operating budget.

"The town no longer has the capacity within its operating budget to pay the principal and interest, which is why this is on the warrant," Walto said.

The town manager noted that the sum will have to be paid back within five years, adding approximately 8 cents to the tax rate and $15.54 to the annual property tax bill for the average home owner, whose home is valued at around $200,000.

State Chapter 90 aid has still not been approved, so additional state aid has been excluded from the presentation of articles at the town meeting.