Infrastructure, senior tax break on Shutesbury Town Meeting warrant

Staff Writer
Published: 6/9/2021 3:36:13 PM

SHUTESBURY — Major infrastructure improvements, a senior citizen property tax exemption and a proposed $6.63 million operating budget for fiscal year 2022 are being presented to voters at Annual Town Meeting on Saturday.

As in 2020, voters will convene in the field behind the Town Hall at 1 Cooleyville Road at 9 a.m. to take up the 26-article warrant. People are encouraged to bring chairs, though a large tent will be available to protect people from the elements.

One of the sizable capital projects is the $1.1 million project for replacing a culvert at the Locks Pond Road and Lake Drive intersection, with $500,000 to be borrowed, $250,000 to be transferred from the capital stabilization account, and the remaining money coming from a $500,000 Municipal Small Bridges state grant, where $150,000 has already paid for engineering and design work.

Town Administrator Becky Torres said the project will include extensive reconstruction of the roads as an old metal culvert below the Lake Wyola dam is removed. Torres said there has been concern about protecting properties near the dam.

The second capital project depends on $300,000 from free cash to replace the roof at the Shutesbury Elementary School gymnasium.

Additionally, voters will be asked to petition the Legislature to advance a special law that would create a means-tested senior citizen property tax exemption.

Administrative Assessor Kevin Rudden said he was given the task last year to find a way to increase this benefit from around $1,000, observing that doesn’t give a lot of help to the 29 qualifying senior citizens whose tax bills average about $5,900 a year.

The means-tested exemption pegs it to the state’s senior circuit breaker tax credit, a refundable credit on people’s personal state income tax return for property taxes paid that maxes out at $1,150. Under the petition, identical to ones approved for other communities, the Selectboard would be allowed to offer an additional 50 percent to 200 percent of the senior circuit breaker tax credit, adding between $575 and $2,300 to this benefit.

Rudden said 20 communities already offer the program, which makes it easier for elders to stay in their homes.

“It’s meaningful relief,” Rudden said.

Senior citizens could apply sometime in 2022 and have the exemption in place for fiscal year 2023 tax bills.

Doing so would increase the tax bill between $20 and $77 for people living in $250,000 homes.

The proposed $6.63 million operating budget is $27,072, or 0.41 percent, higher than the current $6.6 million. It includes $2.24 million for the elementary school, up $44,406. or 2.02 percent, from this year’s $2.19 million budget, while the assessment for the Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools is going down to $1.61 million, a $64,737, or 3.68 percent, drop from this year’s $1.67 million budget.

Torres said the regional school district adjusting its assessment formula is helping balance the town budget.

In its report, the Finance Committee estimates the tax rate will rise by 3 percent from $22.61 per $1,000 valuation to $23.37 per $1,000 valuation.

Town Meeting voters will also be asked to spend $17,000 from the stabilization account to design and engineer an upgrade to the elementary school’s HVAC control system; use $20,000 from the Community Preservation Act account to construct a fenced-in community garden on land behind Town Hall, with eight plots for use by residents and with the potential to expand to 20 plots; and transfer another $2,500 from Community Preservation Act funds for hiring a trail consultant to evaluate, expand and connect trails at the Southbrook Conservation Area and the town beach.

Two zoning bylaw changes are on the warrant as well. One would allow better access points for solar projects on forest conservation land, while the other relates to associate members serving on the Planning Board.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.




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