HEATH – While most towns face budget increases each year, Heath’s circumstances have allowed for a 4.08 percent drop in next year’s expenses approved at Saturday’s annual town meeting.
A number of reasons resulted in a “benign perfect storm” for the upcoming fiscal year, according to Moderator Douglas Wilkins. The total budget approved was $1.9 million, $83,969 less than the current year’s.
Finance Committee members cautioned that future budgets will again rise, with several town vehicles coming due on the replacement schedule, and other projects likely to come up.
Total school costs are $813,139, down $57,385.86 from this year’s, despite the more-than-doubling of the town’s assessment for capital projects at Mohawk Trail Regional High School, which is $11,554.
The overall savings are due in part to the fulfillment of the Heath Elementary School mortgage. The final $48,740 payment for the school, built in 1994, was made this year, and the town also sees a savings of $1,632.79 in interest on the former debt.
Other school savings come from a $54,995 drop in the town’s Franklin County Technical School operating assessment, and a $16,694 drop in the Mohawk assessment.
The town has also paid off a 2003 dump truck, an additional $40,000 savings, and a garage door project at the Highway Department garage, taking another $16,000 out of the budget.
The savings allowed the town to approve $19,500 for a new roadside mower, $12,000 for repairs to a road grader, and $3,130 for equipment to transition Sawyer Hall from DSL broadband service to the fiber-optic network being established by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute.
The town will petition the General Court to provide special legislation to allow Police Chief Margo Newton to work until she is 70, five years later than the statutory retirement age of 65. The article passed unanimously and was met with applause from the crowd.
A budget line item of $7,000 to hire someone for roadside mowing drew the most debate of anything at the meeting, though it was eventually approved by a wide margin.
“We spent well over $700,000 (on the Mohawk budget) in less than two minutes, but it took us 20 to spend $7,000,” Wilkins commented. “That’s town meeting, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s the people talking, and that’s a really good thing.”
The line item was not supported by the Finance Committee. Several of its members said they thought the roadside mowing should be done by Highway Department workers.
Selectman Thomas Lively disagreed with the Finance Committee. He said the Highway Department’s four workers are too busy fixing town roads during the summer, and wouldn’t have time to mow all of the town’s roads too. Budgeted overtime pay, he said, is usually reserved for winter storm response.
Many made the case that well-mowed roads are safer, providing better visibility and allowing snowbanks to melt faster with brush removed.
On a motion from Wilkins, voters agreed to consider an extension of the town’s moratorium on industrial wind turbines at a special town meeting, if necessary. The current moratorium will expire July 1, and the town is still waiting for the state to certify its wind energy bylaw. If that isn’t done in the coming months, some fear an industrial wind power project could slide in without a renewed ban.
All other warrant articles were passed at Saturday’s meeting.
[Excerpted; rest of article available at source]
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