Taxes to decrease after town meeting approves budgets – The Local

Voters who parked checked in so they could sit in the large tent

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Under a sunny sky and six feet apart, voters took care of town business at a slightly unusual town meeting this year.

At the Saturday morning session, they passed a $27,181,875 municipal and a $32,019,077 school budget.

The end result for the coming fiscal year will be tax bills that drop by a little under 2.85%.

Town finance director Sarah Johnson said the average bill will come down slightly as the last bond payment for the high and middle schools was made in the 2020 fiscal year (FY20).

She said the average tax bill is $7,804 on a single-family home assessed at $556,663. That family will see its payment lowered by $222, or 2.85%, to $7,582, Johnson said.

Despite fears that the lingering COVID-19 pandemic would keep voters away, the 200-member quorum was easily met. Town meeting moderator Tom Murphy reported that 376 people signed in.

The warrant was deliberately kept short this year to minimize the length of time people would have to spend in proximity to each other.

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There were 13 articles on the warrant — a 14th was deferred — that mostly dealt with financial matters.

A big unknown this year has been caused by the COVID-19 recession. State aid, which was around $7.43 million in FY20, will be cut due to the economic downturn. However, the state still does not know yet by how much.

Town manager Tony Marino told the meeting town officials were already cautious about spending and were warned further cuts were possible.

However, resident Phil Goguen said that wasn’t enough and presented an amendment to cut the municipal budget by 10%.

Calling it “doable,” he added, “It means this year we will have to do without some things.”

Responding, finance committee chairwoman Janice Clements-Skelon said the municipal budget is up around $125,000 for the coming fiscal year, FY21, which starts July 1.

“The increase is quite modest,” she said, adding around 72% of the budget is made up of personnel and benefits.

Willy Whitmore, select board chairman, said Goguen’s cut would have “dire consequences on the community.”

Goguen’s amendment failed 305-8, and the municipal budget passed 291-28.

He proposed the same cut be made to the $32.02 million school budget. School committee member Carl Nylen said 80% of that budget is made up of salaries and benefits, and the proposed cut would see 53 people laid off.

“Cutting 53 staff from the schools would be calamatous,” Nylen said.

There was little further discussion on Goguen’s proposal, which ultimately failed because no one would second it. The school budget then passed 281-15.

Future spending plans

Nylen told the meeting that the school committee plans to ask for an override probably in FY23, which would be two years from now.

School spending outstrips both inflation and annual town tax increases leading to periodic overrides, which are permanent property tax hikes above the maximum allowed 2.5% increase.

Meanwhile, Bob Weatherall said plans are progressing on a new public safety facility.

The select board recently authorized a purchase and sales agreement for around seven acres at the corner of Pine Swamp and Linebrook roads.

Weatherall said “the need is acute” for new police and fire stations. Addressing the argument of “not now,” he added, “Ipswich acknowledge nearly 70 years ago the fire station was inadequate.”

The Central Street facility was built in 1908 before the motorized era.

Weatherall argued current economic conditions are better for building. Interest rates are at historic lows and contractors may submit lower estimates, he said.

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