Dalton residents to vote on budget with only slight increase


DALTON >> Average single-family tax bills would increase by just $39 and the tax rate would remain below $20 under the $15.96 million budget up for a town vote on Monday.

The budget, recently adopted by the Finance Committee, represents an increase of less than 1 percent over last year.

"We're pretty pleased with the budget this year," said Finance Committee Chairman Henry H. "Terry" Williams III. "The real reason we were able to have a good year was the assessment from [the Central Berkshire Regional School District]."

District spending increased less than 1 percent, to $26.55 million in fiscal 2017, helping the town offset an estimated 4 percent increase in the cost of its services.

The town's CBRSD assessment in fiscal 2017 declined 1.58 percent — from $8.1 million to $7.93 million.

Voters will weigh in on the budget at annual town meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at Wahconah Regional High School.

Williams forecast storm clouds on the town's educational horizon in a report to the town on its financial shape.

"The committee still has many concerns about the sustainability of this education financing model, which often places an unequal burden on municipalities and their taxpayers," Williams said. "Our school budgets always seem to feature declining enrollments, increasing costs and stagnant state educational aid."

He added, "No matter how one looks at the reduced state support for education, one conclusion is inevitable: It is producing undesirable effects on both towns and schools, and by extension the taxpayer."

In an interview, Williams complained that state aid elsewhere in the budget has also remained stagnant, even slightly declining, since more than a decade ago.

"You just can't depend on the state helping you out anymore," Williams said. "So what happens is more and more you're dependent on the property tax levy. It's somewhat depressing."

Still, the budget projects the average single-family tax bill to climb only slightly, to $4,066 from last year's $4,027. The tax rate looks like it will level off at $19.80 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Town Manager Kenneth E. Walto instructed department heads to level-fund all expense accounts or reduce expenses where possible.

Collective bargaining town employees would receive a general salary increase of 1.75 percent under the budget. The budget also contains modest increases in health insurance and vocational education costs.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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