WE ARE HOMETOWN NEWS.

MONSON — At the Jan. 22 tri-board meeting, the Monson Select Board, Finance Committee and School Committee discussed the current budget projections for fiscal year 2024-25 and set financial goals for the coming year.

The meeting began with Finance Director Jamie Farnum reviewing updates to the FY23 and FY24 budgets. She explained multiple components that may impact the FY24’s current tax rate of $15.50.

These included Gov. Maura Healey’s recent 9C budget cuts; the debt exclusions for Granite Valley, Quarry Hill Community School’s roof project, and the Town Hall, as well as the 3% surcharge for the Community Preservation Act.

Farnum also stated the final totals for Monson’s allotment of Fair Share Amendment funds. This is a state program which provides towns with additional transportation funds through an added 4% tax on annual incomes greater than $1 million. The funds are distributed based on mileage, population and employment. This year, Monson received $281,000 from Fair Share, bringing their total available funds to $737,000.

While reviewing the outlook for FY25, Town Administrator Jennifer Wolowicz highlighted two new taxes that were proposed by Healey as part of the Municipal Empowerment Act. To be implemented, the taxes will need to be approved by Town Meeting, she said. The first tax is an additional 0.25% to the current 1.75% meals tax while the second is a 5% surcharge on the town’s vehicle tax.

“It has to be understood that this is, yes, another tax on the community resident but it’s also a way for revenue to be generated for the community to continue the services that the town has,” she said.

To raise additional revenue, the three boards discussed the possibility of constructing new buildings to attract more businesses, naming Boston Road as an option. The potential revenue of the Monson Developmental Center was also mentioned.

“We got to get some commercial buildings here and I don’t mean right here on Main Street but down on Route 20. We need to be welcoming and we need to embrace this idea … we need commercial accounts to pay in,” Select Board member Peter Warren said.

Wolowicz also stated that the town was considering a debt exclusion for the energy-related ESCO project. Farnum further explained that moving the payments of the $5 million debt from the operating budget to a debt exclusion would make more funds available to use for town services. This decision would also have to be approved at Town Meeting.

For changes in the FY25 town budget, Farnum stated that multiple aspects are expected to increase but that the final numbers have not all been received by the town. These include the budgeting concerning the Regional Dog Pound, health insurance from the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission and information from Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School District. However, Farnum did explain that the town anticipates saving money through sharing veteran services with Wilbraham.

For the FY25 school budget, Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Clarke and Director of Business and Operations Leah Zippin stated that the only increases will be from union negotiations and utility costs. All other changes, such as the loss of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, were balanced through adaptions such as removing certain pandemic-related staff positions.

“We all understand that there are people in town who are having financial difficulties and I think it’s incumbent on all of us to make sure that we’re not spending more money than we need to spend but let’s face it, we’ve got to balance the budget and that means one of two things: We either cut services or we find some additional revenue sources and we’re working on the second part,” Select Board Chair Patricia Oney said.

Locating alternative forms of revenue that does not place pressure on residents “really [is] one of the driving forces behind the Select Board this year,” Oney stated. She highlighted that the town’s work to regionalize facilities will also help relieve the pressure on residents.

lmason@thereminder.com | + posts