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Belmont seeks volunteers for new group that will scrutinize town finances

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  September 12, 2013 11:55 AM

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Belmont selectmen are seeking local volunteers to fill two open seats on the town’s newly-created Financial Task Force, a group that will review Belmont's finances and develop a long-range plan after the town has experienced some shaky budgeting issues.

Belmont officials established the temporary group this year after the town had to take $2 million from its free cash account to help balance the town’s budget, said Belmont town administrator David Kale.

He said the town gets most of its revenue from taxes and state funding. But when cuts are made, as they have in the past few years at the state level, the town suffers.

“The majority of our budget is funded by property taxes and state aid, and prior to last fiscal year, state aid because of the state budget had been reduced,” Kale said. “Any time you have a reduction in non-property tax revenue, it’s tough to balance.”

Kale said the town is striving toward replenishing the amount it took from the free cash account, which Kale compared to a savings account for the town.

“Free cash is not free,” he said. “It’s like a savings account: if you use some of your savings to balance your budget, then as long as you can replenish it for what you used for the prior year, your savings balance doesn’t decline.”

After last year’s borrowing from the free cash account, the new task force will be tasked with trying to make the town a leaner business. They will review the town’s finances and make long-term recommendations for both increasing revenue and finding ares where officials can cut services.

“Every year it’s a challenge to balance budgets like every town,” Kale said. “This gives us an opportunity to find what those challenges might be, and to help find revenue streams.”

The new group’s findings will also help Belmont officials decide if they should introduce the option of an override to its voters. The town’s taxes are already at the maximum Proposition 2 ½ levy, a state law that puts a ceiling on the percentage that municipalities can raise taxes each year, Kale said.

“We’re doing this exercise to come up with information to basically allow us to make that assessment,” Kale said of the override.

However, some officials warned that an override in Belmont would not be met with open arms.

"This is a town that expects a lot of accountability," said Floyd Carman, Belmont's town treasurer. "That’s why we're putting this financial taskforce together, to look at the town's financial wellness. Without justifying an override or a debt exclusion, they [Belmont voters] just won’t pass it willy-nilly."

Carman said since 2005, residents have rejected two override proposals that would give Belmont's budget a much-needed financial shot in the arm.

"Belmont's not a town where you can easily pass an override," Carman said.

Currently, the town's tax rate is 13.33 per thousand dollars of assessed value, according to town officials. The median home assessment in Belmont is $693,000; the average is $777,000, according to the assessor's office.

The 13-member task force consists of Kale, two resident volunteers, a town assessor, one selectman, the town treasurer, school representatives including the superintendent and School Committee members, and a Capital Budget Committee member, among other officials.

“I think that we will spend a good chunk of the next year investigating the town’s finances,” Kale said.

To find out more information or to apply to the group, contact Kale at 617-993-2610 or e-mail selectmen@belmont-ma.gov. Interested residents should turn in their completed application by Friday, Sept. 27 for consideration.

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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