Great Barrington voters to weigh $10.2M budget proposal
GREAT BARRINGTON -- The Finance Committee has voted to recommend a town budget of $10.24 million for the May 6 town meeting.
The committee wrangled some last-minute additional savings, which reduced budget expenditures by more than $320,000.
The cuts were suggested because the Berkshire Hills Regional School District budget bills the town $454,000.
"I think we got to find [tax] relief for voters," said Finance Committee member Andy Moro, a theme reiterated throughout the night by committee members.
Following the re-allocation of funds, the Finance Committee's recommended budget would increase the town's assessment a penny to $13.15.
The budget reductions come from the reallocation of $200,000 in fiscal 2014 free cash, $100,000 allocated for an Other Post Employment Benefit fund, and $20,000 in cuts from the Department of Public Works, along with other cuts.
Left unresolved between the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen, and likely to return for discussion during town meeting, is a $1,500 stipend for each selectman and $40,000 in the Selectmen's health care benefits that was recommended for removal by a Finance Committee majority.
The Finance Committee recommended budget would remove these Selectmen incentives starting the new fiscal year.
During town meeting, the Selectmen are likely to request an amendment in the budget to restore the incentives.
Finance Committee members said there's no proof salary increases participation on the Board of Selectmen.
Finance Committee member Moro said Great Barrington's fully staffed town departments leaves little need to pay the board.
Finance Committee member Sharon Gregory suggested an increase in the Selectmen's stipend and elimination of the $40,000 in health benefits, but that did not receive support from the other committee members. She said the Selectmen should be paid because Great Barrington operates as the center of South Berkshire County.
Selectmen said the recommendation to remove their salary effective July 1 was politically motivated.
"Given the timing of this, I can't imagine it is anything but political," said Selectwoman Alana Chernila who is not be running for re-election. "When [the Finance Committee] make[s] a precedent like this during the budget period, it is very punitive."
The Library Board of Trustees will request $39,500 in appropriations from library and town reserves during town meeting. That funding was almost removed from their budget because they didn't communicate with the Finance Committee beforehand. The motion failed 2-2 with Gregory abstaining.
Finance Committee members Andy Moro and Walter Atwood III voted in support.
During this final Finance Committee meeting on the town budget, the Great Barrington Police Department was also nearly a target of a $20,000 budget cut because it was the largest department. The motion was raised by Gregory. The motion failed.