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Select Board gets balanced budget for FY 25, reviews Town Meeting articles

by | Jan 31, 2024 | Featured: News, News

The Select Board at its nearly four-hour meeting Tuesday night tackled several key items, including the $123.5 million fiscal year 2025 consolidated budget submission and the proposed articles for May’s Annual Town Meeting.

Town Manager Norman Khumalo appeared before a joint meeting of the Select Board, School Committee and Appropriation Committee to present the consolidated budget submission for FY 25. He stressed that because of the hard work of current and former town staff, this proposed budget of $123.5 million is balanced despite the state’s challenging economy.

He noted that when the budget process began, town departments were instructed not to exceed 4.4% of their FY 24 budgets. About $1.8 million worth of requests from 11 departments exceeded that recommendation for operating requests.

What may help the town’s fiscal situation, Khumalo said, is that the potential recapitalization of work at Eversource’s Hopkinton LNG facility for tax purposes was valued above original estimates. Also, Eversource has suspended its appealing of all property tax bills.

Khumalo stressed that “every expenditure is maximized for optimized impact.” In addition, funding was directed to the town’s stabilization and reserve funds from free cash to promote future financial flexibility.

Said Khumalo: “On the expenditure allocation priorities, the town has proved over the years that the investment decisions are strategic in nature.”

A major investment in this budget will be for the proposed addition to and renovation of the Hopkins Elementary School.

Khumalo requested that town departments defer other capital projects until the economy becomes more stable and the school projects are resolved. These included the proposed new playground at the Marathon School, the renovation work on Track 3 at the high school, and a telecommunications proposal.

He proposed six potential operational overrides to be considered at Annual Town Meeting. The primary one is $46.7 million for the Hopkins addition and renovation.

“Tax impact is a severe issue facing the community,” Khumalo noted. “And the community should review and consider the projects put forward very carefully in that context.”

The tax increase on the average Hopkinton homeowner is expected to be $293. If the six overrides are approved, there would be an additional increase of $212.

More detailed budget discussions will take place in the near future.

Prospective Town Meeting articles discussed

The Select Board also talked about articles currently proposed for the upcoming Annual Town Meeting. The majority of the articles focused on recommendations from the Community Preservation Committee and recurring articles on town finances.

Several other articles have been proposed. They include the Planning Board’s article that will allow Hopkinton to comply with the MBTA Communities Act. There also is a proposed article on amending the town bylaw regarding discharging water into a public street. The specialized energy code article is being resubmitted after being defeated at the Special Town Meeting in the fall.

The acceptance of land at Whisper Way and of land donated as part of the Emerald III subdivision also were submitted in articles. The acquisition of the Colella and McDonough properties will appear on the warrant as well.

Compromise proposed for non-citizen residents

The proposed article that drew the most attention was in regard to allowing non-citizen permanent residents the opportunity to participate in local government. Select Board vice chair Shahidul Mannan noted that Town Clerk Connor Degan expressed concerns about the potential implementation of changing voting policy so close to the election.

Degan stressed that caution should be exercised because the Legislature has not yet accepted similar measures in other communities. Local town elections officials need to be involved, because there might not be time to properly prepare for and budget for the process, he said.

He added that he was willing to “continue the dialogues” on the issue, as well as study ways to “increase the voice of non-citizen residents.”

A bylaw change, Degan noted, could allow non-citizen residents to speak at Town Meeting and serve on boards and committees.

Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch agreed and proposed the inclusion of these two articles on the warrant as placeholders so that more discussion could ensue. The measure was approved 3-0-1, with Select Board chair Muriel Kramer voting present.

Kramer, who had proposed the article regarding voting, said the issue was “about access and equity.” She was open to continuing the conversation or possibly waiting until next year, but did not agree with “iterative steps.”

Mannan said he liked Degan’s ideas. He urged for more time to consider the issue.

Khumalo pointed out that the Select Board has until April 16 to sign the warrant, so there still is time for discussion.

All other articles were approved 4-0.

Board welcomes new/promoted employees

The Select Board voted 4-0 to approve the hiring of Armando Ndreu as the town’s new facilities manager and Rita Ben-Cherqui as the town payroll manager. The board also voted to accept Khumalo’s recommendation that Jessica “Jak” Miller be promoted to assistant library services director after serving as the young adult librarian.

Khumalo’s transition plan discussion on hold

Because of the length of the meeting, several items were pushed to the agenda of the next Select Board meeting on Feb. 6. They included the transition plan for Khumalo, who will be retiring from the position to take a private sector job. The strategic planning process and 2023 annual report also are to be taken up at that meeting.

1 Comment

  1. Kristen Turner

    “ If the six overrides are approved, there would be an additional increase of $212.”.

    I am assuming this is the impact for FY25 only? According to the Jan. 28 Budget Transmittal document (enclosure 5) the peak year tax impact of the 6 capital articles, if approved, is $504 – with the majority of that being the Hopkins project.

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