Lanesborough expecting seven-figure savings, but virus effects might nudge up tax bills

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LANESBOROUGH — Town officials expect more than $1 million in savings when the new fiscal year begins July 1, but tax bills still could go up due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Select Board and Finance Committee have endorsed a $10.25 million budget for fiscal 2021, down $1.13 million from the current spending plan of $11.38 million that runs out June 30.

Annual town meeting voters will have the final say on the budget June 9, the scheduled date for the gathering at Lanesborough Elementary School.

Cheaper costs for landfill monitoring, technology support and other contracted services account for part of the seven-figure reduction, according to Town Manager Kelli Robbins. In addition, $100,000 less is needed for road repairs, and the debt line item is $472,000 lower as the town has made its last payment on the renovation of the elementary school.

"The budget is not so much of having the [the coronavirus] pandemic in mind, but to keep costs down and we need to stabilize the tax rate," she said.

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But, it's unlikely that town officials will maintain the current tax rate of $20.68 per $1,000 of assessed value. Robbins says she learned from state officials this week that Lanesborough can expect a cut in state aid; how much remains to be seen. She said that could contribute to the tax rate increasing, a figure hard to nail down as the state funding situation is in flux.

Based on earlier conversations with the state, Robbins said the town could see up to a 50 percent cut in state aid in fiscal 2021 due to the economic impact of the pandemic.

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Robbins had budgeted for the worst-case scenario of the $500,000 in state money received for fiscal 2020 being cut in half, money that is a fraction of the town's revenue stream.

Nevertheless, any state aid reduction puts more of a burden on the taxpayers.

"About 95 percent [of our revenue] comes from personal and real estate taxes," she said.

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Meanwhile, the town's biggest expense, public education, will drop $89,000 for fiscal 2021.

The assessment to the Mount Greylock Regional School District stands at $5,761,000, down $8,000. The cost of sending Lanesborough students to McCann Tech in North Adams has fallen $81,000, from $729,000 to $648,000, for the new budget year.

Robbins anticipates a special town meeting will be needed in early fall, likely to consider several special money articles totaling $276,000 that were removed from annual town meeting consideration.

The items include buying a highway excavator, generator for the Fire Department and improvement to roads around or in the area of the Lanesborough side of Pontoosuc Lake. She says the town is waiting on the state to certify the town's new "free cash" amount that could pay for the added expenditures.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com.


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