It’s that time of year when Mattapoisett’s Finance Committee meets with department heads across the spectrum of departments and services that taxpayers fund. Budgets for the coming fiscal year are reviewed, contrasted against the previous year, and defended by department heads when increases are asked for as the Finance Committee members weigh the pros and cons of balance sheets.
One department that seems to be improving and moving along smoothly is the Assessor’s Office headed by Kathleen Costello, principal assessor.
Costello, accompanied by Ray Andrews, member of the Board of Assessors, presented her fiscal year 2017 budget. While doing so, she was given an opportunity to discuss with the committee members how fiscal year 2016 has been going.
“It’s been a great year in the Assessor’s Office,” Costello told the committee members.
She went on to explain that the GIS program, a geographical mapping and information system that allows visual as well as analytical data of property to be used with digital accuracy, has been the key in providing the town with clean precise data.
“Fourteen years ago when the assessors brought this up to the selectmen, it was too much money and we didn’t have anyone to run it,” Andrews told them. Now with Nick Nelson, a full-time employee shared between the Highway Department and the Assessors’ Office who has taken on the role of the GIS guru, the program is fully functional and effective Costello stated.
Costello said building permits are now directly entered into a computer program that automatically trickles out the information to all departments involved, such as the assessor’s office.
“It eliminates errors that can be made through repetition,” she said while adding, “It’s another step towards efficiency, making the cog run more smoothly.”
Costello presented a level-funded budget with only a minor uptick in the category of seminars and conferences. She impressed upon the committee members the importance of continuing education and investing in employees’ professional growth, saying, “I have a great group here, I’m really lucky.”
Town Administrator Michael Gagne asked her to explain some of the upcoming opportunities the town will have with solar projects.
Costello briefly explained the positive revenue impact from payments in lieu of taxes, a.k.a. PILOT programs. These programs allow cities and towns to tax the personal property installed on lands used for solar voltaic energy production, tax the property at a greater rate than simple forested undeveloped land, and thus bring commercial revenue to the coffers.
“If the land becomes a subdivision,” Costello explained, “we lose money…. This way, it becomes positive cash flow.”
Gagne said the town is still in discussions with EMI Solar and Blue Wave, LLC for the placement of solar panels at the closed town landfill. He also said the new Crystal Spring Road solar project will produce 5.3 megawatts of electricity while the town landfill project is expected to produce around two megawatts.
Gagne, along with the committee members, congratulated Costello on her recent appointment as the 2016 president of the Plymouth County Assessor’s Association.
The committee also met with Town Clerk Catherine Heuberger and Town Accountant Suzanne Szyndlar who both presented budgets that are proposed to be level-funded for FY17. Heuberger did ask for a modest uptick in costs associated with hiring safety officers for the polls during elections.
Gagne said that on March 16 at 6:30 pm the Finance Committee would be meeting with school Superintendent Douglas White regarding local school budgets, and that he and other administrators would be meeting with the ORR budget subcommittee on February 29 at 4:30 pm at the ORR School superintendent’s conference room.
The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Finance Committee is scheduled for February 24 at 6:30 pm in the Mattapoisett Town Hall with budget presentations from Chief Mary Lyons, police department, and Chief Andrew Murray, fire department.
By Marilou Newell