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Lanesborough Town Manager Proposes $11.4 Million Budget
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
01:16AM / Wednesday, March 15, 2017
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The Finance Committee reviewed the operating budget on Monday night.

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Town Manager Paul Sieloff has proposed an $11.4 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The budget is $196,635 more than last year, and that is mostly driven by the costs for the Mount Greylock Regional School building project. Sieloff had actually penciled in an increase of $154,576 for the Mount Greylock budget for the capital project but the preliminary district budget shows only a $92,489 increase. 
"We don't change much year to year. We don't have new coming come in of any substance," Sieloff said.
If approved, this budget would raise taxes by about 3 percent — about 2 percent of that is attributed to the building project.
Particularly driving the tax rate isn't so much the budget but rather decreases in assessments at the Berkshire Mall. Sieloff said the assessment there is set at $19.5 million. The mall had been valued as high as $60.4 million in 2008 and steadily dropped to $36.7 million in 2015. 
Last year, the mall's loss of two anchor stores placed the value down to $19.5 million. That drop in value was the major driver last year in what ended up being close to an 8 percent increase in taxes.
That impacts the revenues coming into the town. Sieloff says he's directed department heads not to propose any projects that can't be funded through grants. 
"We have been very proactive in looking for additional revenue sources," Sieloff said.
The town has been trying to navigate through the onset of the school bills plus the decreased mall value. But, there is an end in sight. The mall assessment is stable compared to last year and the bills for the school aren't increasing by as much. Eventually, both will plateau.
Sieloff's budget does include some modest increases in some lines. What it doesn't include is 2 percent raises for non-union employees. Sieloff wants to provide the Town Hall workers a cost-of-living increase but the Board of Selectmen opposed it and directed him to cut them out. 
"We were very frugal about not adding too many things," Sieloff said.
Assisting this year's budget is a level-funded elementary school budget and outside of the building project, the town's assessment to Mount Greylock's operational budget dropped. McCann Technical School, however, shows close to a $10,000 increase in assessment.
"I give the schools a lot of credit for maintaining their operational budget," Sieloff said.
The town also got a reprieve from health insurance increases with changes to the Berkshire Health Group options. The group eliminated one of the offered plans and moved to a deductible plan. That will save the town $44,492 in premiums. 
However, a portion of that — $13,673 — needs to be shared with the employees. That will be dispersed to the employees, thus giving the town a $30,819 savings in health insurance. The employees are expected to pay $10,200 less in premiums, and coupled with the mitigation payments, see $23,873 in savings.
The budget also calls for the use of free cash to pay off four debts, which are nearing the end of the borrowing terms. Sieloff wants to get those numbers off the books by paying them off early. That would result in about an $80,000 reduction in the debt services budget line item in the upcoming year as well as reduce the overall amount of interest being paid. 
Some of the increases Sieloff is asking for include: additional hours in the tax collector and treasurer's office; $8,000 more for legal work, paying for a part-time professional planner through a shared services agreement with Williamstown; a $15,000 in funds to repair town roads; a $4,000 increase for plowing and salting roads in the winter; and a few other minor changes.
Both the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee will review the budget and make their own recommendations. All three will be presented for a vote at town meeting.
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