LENOX -- An austere town budget is in the planning stages, partly because of uncertainty surrounding the level of available local aid from Boston later this year.
Under Town Manager Gregory Federspiel’s proposal presented to the Select Board this past week, the $23.7 million spending plan for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1, would represent a 1.85 percent increase over the current budget for fiscal year 2013.
Property owners would face a 2 percent hike in their tax bills, Federspiel said.
Municipal employees could see a 2 percent pay increase, costing $220,000, depending on the outcome of negotiations with town and School Department unions. A 4 percent increase in benefits is anticipated, at a cost of about $70,000.
The proposed balanced budget, enabling the town to continue providing services at their current level, is a starting point for discussion, fine-tuning and eventual action by the Select Board, with input from the Finance Committee, before it’s presented to annual Town Meeting voters in early May for potential revision and approval.
"Budgets are always about choices, and as resources become scarce, those choices become a lot more difficult," said Federspiel. He said the proposal assumes a 2 percent tax increase for property owners.
It also assumes level-funded state aid, about $3 million a year to Lenox, but, he acknowledged, "I’m a little nervous about
"The big caveat is what will happen at the federal level," the town manager emphasized, referring to upcoming deadlines for raising the nation’s borrowing limits to pay current bills, and implementing spending cuts. "If there are major spending reductions, that will affect state programs and trickle down and impact us as well," he cautioned.
"It’s a struggle to get to the end of the year within the various operating budgets, but overall it’s achievable, assuming nothing out of the ordinary happens," said Federspiel.
Challenging pressure points, he pointed out, involve health-insurance costs for active and retired town employees. Major infrastructure improvement projects are also looming, he added, explaining that he wants to hold some of the town’s taxing limits in reserve to help fund those costs in future years.
Significant budget increases include required payments for veterans benefits, totaling around $60,000, and a proposed $95,000 in spending for economic development, up from $55,000 in the current year but back to levels of previous years, for event seed money and promotion, as well as consultant work for event development and business recruitment.
The budget proposal is to be finalized by April 1, Federspiel said.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.