Buckland eyes deep budget cuts

Recorder Staff
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

BUCKLAND — With regional school assessments only going up a collective 1 percent, few town officials attended Mohawk Trail Regional School District’s public hearing this week — except for Buckland officials, who are facing a $97,829 Mohawk assessment increase.

A night later, Finance Committee Chairwoman Karen Blom said the Selectboard cannot afford continuing annual $100,000 school hikes without raising taxes or cutting municipal operations.

“It’s another tight year,” said Blom. “With no (cost-of-living raises), no capital requests and no money put into stabilization, we’re still about $2,000 over our tax levy limit.”

Town Administrator Andrea Llamas noted the Mohawk assessment to Buckland has increased an average of almost $100,000 a year in the three school budgets from 2017, 2018 and the coming 2019 plan.

Mohawk officials said Buckland’s large assessment hike is, in part, due to state calculations for the town’s “minimum contribution” requirement, based partly on the Department of Revenue’s assessment of “total income of all residents.” For Buckland, that revenue calculation went up by $1.2 million for the coming year — an increase that town officials can’t explain.

Selectboard Chairwoman Dena Willmore and Llamas believe the state Department of Revenue is continuing to use ZIP codes as the basis for town income calculations. Most of Buckland’s 1,800 residents live within the Shelburne (01370) ZIP code, but last year, Buckland’s income tally was based on the incomes from roughly 300 residents living within Buckland’s affluent 01338 ZIP code. Llamas told the board she sent state officials a list of nearly all Buckland residents living in the 01370 ZIP code, which includes all who live in the Shelburne Falls village section.

Town officials think Shelburne may be getting the benefit of a reduction in minimum contribution calculations from the lower incomes of Buckland residents living in Shelburne Falls.

Another reason for Buckland’s school increase is its growing five-year enrollment average. Its kindergarten through Grade 6 enrollment has increased by about 23 percent.

Town officials discussed eliminating all capital requests from next year’s budget. But they tentatively agreed to go forward with a $15,000 capital request for the Senior Center, which they share with Shelburne and Ashfield; police radios and putting $20,000 into highway stabilization.

The boards decided to pay off $140,000 on loans for Tropical Storm Irene repairs from the town’s $515,000 Stabilization Fund; this would leave more money within the town’s tax levy-limit for other expenditures, including a 2½ percent cost-of-living increase for town employees.

Willmore suggested asking annual town meeting voters for a restaurant meals tax and a lodging tax, so that Buckland could benefit from growth in tourism and Airbnb establishments.

Budget meetings will continue in Buckland, as the Selectboard meets with departments to discuss specific needs.