By Beth David
FAIRHAVEN — Fairhaven Town Meeting members will vote on 50 articles covering about $58.7 million in spending this Saturday, 5/7, at the annual and special town meetings at Hastings Middle School.
The FY17 operating budget of $45.4 million includes $21.5 million for the School Department, including the vocational schools. The $19,385,788 for the Fairhaven Public Schools is an increase of $648,594 from last year’s appropriation, about 2%.
Spending articles beyond the operating budget total approximately $13.3 million. Much of that will come from dedicated funds, such as sewer and water accounts, and more than $8 million from borrowing.
Town revenue comes from property taxes, fees on licenses, excise taxes, state aid to cities and towns, and fees from water and sewer bills.
This year, according to the Finance Committee’s report, $27,200,617 will be raised in property taxes, which includes the full 2.5% allowable increase, limited by Proposition 2 1/2 to 2.5% plus new growth. Local receipts (from fees, such as building permits) are estimated at $6,390,000, which is 87.2% of last year’s actual fees. The town generally estimates local receipts conservatively to guard against a year-end deficit. Any money received that is over the estimate will be considered “surplus revenue” or “free cash.” These funds are usually used for one-time expenses.
This year the FinCom is recommending that $500,000 from free cash be put in the town’s Stabilization Fund, also known as the “rainy day fund.”
Money from sewer and water fees, go into “enterprise funds,” dedicated accounts used to fund only expenses from those departments, e.g., water fees pay for water department, sewer pays for sewer department.
The town’s budget is “structurally balanced,” meaning that ongoing expenses are being funded by ongoing revenue, not one-time money (such as free cash). All one time money is being used for one-time expenses, such as capital expenditures.*
Spending articles that seem poised to garner some discussion include $33,000 for a consultant to study the condition of, and possible uses for, the Rogers School Building.
Discussion over the last few years about the fate of the building has ranged from knocking it down to create a parking lot and using it as a town hall annex. There were no acceptable offers on the building after two requests for proposals were advertised.
After hearing from Doug Brady of the Rogers/Oxford Committee, the Selectboard agreed to change the wording of the article from “disposition” to something that would include town uses for the building.
The Selectboard and Capital Planning Committee are also asking town meeting to approve $45,000 for a “Public Facilities Improvement Plan,” a study of all town buildings to determine their conditions and other possible uses.
The $496,753 that those two boards are requesting in Article 9 of the annual TM will also fund two police cruisers ($78,345), a police SafeBoat ($30,000), a dump truck for the highway department ($150,000), a truck for the Harbormaster ($40,000) and flooring at Hastings Middle School ($153,408).
The SafeBoat is a new boat for the police department that will replace two aging vessels; the police cruisers and dump truck will replace aging vehicles.
The floors at the middle school will be reimbursed at 51% by the state.
One area that might get some resident push-back is an increase of $35,000 in legal expenses to help pay for using an attorney who specializes in labor contracts to help with union negotiations.
The Planning Board’s request to fund a consultant to update the town’s Master Plan is being recommended at the full $85,000 from the general fund plus $25,000 in Community Preservation Act funds. The old Master Plan is out of date.
Other large spending items include $8.682 million for capital improvements to the sewer plant using borrowed money, and $300,000 in road work, plus $523,821 in road work using Chapter 90/state funds.
The Board of Public Works is also looking for $5,000 for costs associated with complying with the Water Management Act, and $200,000 for a town-wide assessment on excessive inflow and infiltration of the sewer system. Those funds will come from water and sewer enterprise funds respectively.
The Community Preservation Committee is recommending $441,600 in Community Preservation Act spending, including $80,000 for the Buzzards Bay Coalition to protect water resources in Mattapoisett; $50,000 for the Fairhaven Housing Authority for boilers at Dana Court; $70,000 for window restoration at the high school; $159,000 for exterior work on the library building; $45,000 for exterior siding at the Academy Building.
In smaller spending items requested by residents, TM will be asked for $1600 for two street lights: One on Roy Street and one on Balsam Street.
The Fire Department will withdraw two articles, 18 and 19, from the Annual TM for new fire equipment. The articles were matching funds for grants that the department applied for, but did not receive, so they withdrew the requests.
Non spending items include a street acceptance request petitioned by residents for Welcome Street, which has been recommended; and a street acceptance request for Reservation Road, which has not been recommended.
Other articles that have already stirred up some resident interest and are bound to get some discussion, include two bylaw changes proposed by the Planning Board.
Article 33 of the Annual TM would have changed some restrictions on used car lots. The addition of “boats” to the bylaw caused a huge backlash from marina owners and the Fairhaven Shipyard. The Planning Board has voted to pass over the article at town meeting and go back to the drawing board.
Article 32 is also a PB bylaws change that would require, among other things, developers to post a bond for projects requiring a special permit, equal to at least 15% of the cost of the project. Some business owners objected to the idea at a Selectboard meeting. That board voted to go on record as not supporting the article, but it is the Planning Board that petitioned it.
The BPW is also requesting a couple of bylaws changes, including a change to protect water resources, that would include prohibiting anyone from removing water from streams and wetlands.
Two bylaws will also change some language related to the town’s reorganization to a Town Administrator form of government. Since the town voted not to eliminate the BPW, that language will be written out of the changes and sent to the legislature for approval, along with removing all references to the Executive Secretary in the bylaws in articles 34 and 36.
*The town meeting warrant and Finance Committee report with all the numbers are available on our website at www.NeighbNews.com and on the town’s website, www.fairhaven-ma.gov.