A two-for-two showing this week wrapped up budget season in Essex as voters gave the thumbs up to both school and village spending plans.
On Tuesday, Essex Westford School District voters approved a $76.6 million budget for fiscal year 2019, representing a 1.77 increase over the current year. Here’s the breakdown by town:
- Essex Town voted 369 to 84
- Essex Jct. voted 360 to 66
- Westford voted 122 to 49
EWSD voters also approved a $1 million capital plan 834 to 214. With that included, education spending per equalized pupil will drop 1.18 percent in FY19.
The district’s tax rate would have stayed essentially flat if not for reductions in the state-determined “dollar yield amount” and a drop in the common level of appraisal across EWSD’s three communities. Instead, the tax rate was expected to rise more than five cents when the school board passed its proposal.
Still, rate projections earlier this year showed homeowners who pay based on income sensitivity — about two-thirds of the EWSD community — were expected to see virtually no change to their tax impact compared to last year. Homeowners who pay based on property value, meanwhile, will see an estimated $87 increase per $100,000 in property value.
The district says since school budgets across the state grew at a smaller rate than what was projected in December, the final tax rate is likely to be lower.
Major expense drivers include hikes in estimated costs for outside placements and contracted services related to special education, salary bumps defined by recently signed master agreements and technology infrastructure.
Those costs will be offset by lower health care premium payments, tuition savings from Westford students attending Essex High School and the start of a single audit for the entire district.
The district now expects to save $740,000 more in this budget thanks to the elimination of seven additional positions, all through attrition. Chief operating officer Brian Donahue told The Reporter in February the district is on track to save $4.87 million in the first five years.
The three communities also approved the Center for Technology, Essex’s budget of $8 million by a vote of 881 to 167.
Returning to the school board are Martha Heath, Liz Subin and Diane Clemens, who all ran unopposed for three-year seats.
Village voters, meanwhile, shot down a few requests to spend more in the upcoming fiscal year during the annual meeting last week before passing the trustees’ original proposed general fund budget of $4.95 million.
The approved municipal budget represents a $138,000, or 2.9 percent, increase over the current fiscal year. The tax rate, meanwhile, will increase an estimated 3.7 percent due to a drop in the amount of fund balance used to offset it.
The owner of a $280,000 home is estimated to see a $31 village tax increase, based on an estimated 1 percent increase in the non-GlobalFoundries grand list. That same homeowner will see an estimated $46 increase in town taxes from the budget passed in March. The official tax rates are set in the summer.
Salaries make up the biggest portion of the increases at $73,000, including $27,000 in fire department salaries toward the alignment with the town department. There’s also a $25,000 reimbursement to the town for a shared human resources director and IT technician, $14,000 to match grants and support economic development events, including $4,300 toward SteAmFest, which kicked off its inaugural event this year.
The Essex Jct. Recreation and Parks budget is up just over $95,000, or 5.9 percent, from the current year, resulting in an overall program budget of $1.7 million.
Program revenues fund more than half of that, however. The department’s general fund budget, which is paid for with taxes, is up $37,000 — 5.5 percent — to $712,000. Director Brad Luck said the bulk of those increases are from health insurance costs influenced by changes in employees’ plans.
The rolling stock transfer, which increases by $10,000 each year, is up to $223,600. Five vehicles are up for replacement this year.
The budget also includes a $318,000 transfer to the capital reserve fund. Projects planned for FY19, which have a $2 million capital budget, include a facilities assessment, the crescent connector, improvements to the intersection of West Street and West Street Extension and the roadway portion of the Railroad Avenue waterline.
Residents asked for $10,000 for SteAmfest that otherwise needs to be funded by local businesses, $33,000 for the fire department budget to speed up the alignment and $8,000 for maintenance of Lincoln Hall and the Park Street School building. The voting body denied all requests.
Village elections saw Elaine Sopchak and Andrew Brown regain seats on the board of trustees after running unopposed. Beth Custer and Joe Knox, also unopposed, earned spots on the Brownell Library board of trustees.
Voters were also treated to a reenactment of the inaugural annual meeting to celebrate Essex Jct.’s 125th anniversary. Five top-hatted actors playing the first-ever trustees ran through the meeting that created the village of Essex Jct.
There was a fair share of bickering, mention of a few disastrous fires and some complaints about village streets.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly identify where one resident asked to add money back into the budget. The resident requested money be added into the funds to maintain Lincoln Hall and Park Street School building, not Memorial Hall.