As the members of the Mattapoisett Finance Committee gathered on January 31 to begin the fiscal year 2019 budget process with various department heads, the bad taste left behind from the January 24 Old Rochester Regional School Committee meeting lingered.
During that meeting, Massachusetts Department of Education Program Manager of Governance and Facilities Program Christine Lynch and Associate Commissioner of the Center for School Finance and District Support Jay Sullivan had been invited as guest speakers to the ORR School Committee as it began the FY19 budget process.
Colby Rottler, a Mattapoisett FinCom member, said of the state presenters, “I wasn’t impressed … there wasn’t a lot of substance.” He thought that at times Lynch and Sullivan neared a state of being “argumentative” saying, “They didn’t understand and didn’t provide relevant data that might have been helpful. They were ill prepared … it was rather embarrassing.… The selectmen were rolling their eyes.… It’s unfortunate, I didn’t get a lot out of it,” he stated.
Mattapoisett Town Administrator Michael Gagne said that after speaking with other town administrators and finance managers he believed, “We need to drill down … [and] get some additional information for the school committee on various funds.” He said that budget and statistical analysis for a deeper dive was critical and that he would continue to push for that.
FinCom member Gary Johnson said, “We did learn to review the Tri-Town [regional school district] agreement.” It was disclosed during the school committee meeting that that defining document had not been reviewed since the early 1980s. Both Lynch and Sullivan urged the three towns to take a look at it since the state’s rules and regulations had changed significantly over the years.
Gagne agreed, saying, “It’s time to dive into it.… It’s an exercise we should do.”
In other matters, Mattapoisett Library Director Susan Pizzolato gave a state of the library presentation that included a forward look at the library’s FY19 budget needs. Pizzolato began her presentation by saying, “We provide more services and fewer things over the counter and the state is starting to let us count those as checked out items.” She added, “A dynamic library adapts to the needs of the community.”
From the strategic plan she developed in concert with the Board of Trustees – a plan that is geared towards guiding the library through 2023 – Pizzolato reported that floor space review and modification planning was underway to ensure the interior spaces of the library were adequate and appropriate for side-by-side learning experience and 21st century library users.
Included in that study is storage space and needs, children’s department condition, functionality and comfort, facility maintenance, and prioritization of items for capital planning consideration.
Pizzolato said that the speakers series was very successful and that she would continue to promote the library as a civic space for community and regional meetings.
Of the nearly 100,000 items circulated by the library, Pizzolato reported the importance of keeping materials vital and current to user needs.
In her presentation materials, she included a ‘year in review’ page that included the following details based on FY17 statistics: 75,000 visitors; 67,000 items in the collection; 425 programs offered; 89,000 items circulated; 5,000 e-books; and 20,000 website visitors.
For FY19, Pizzolato is projecting an increase in salaries and wages of $12,391 and library materials of $5,000 with an overall projected budget of $468,716 – roughly a 3.8 percent increase over FY17.
Of the library, Gagne said, “It’s a high focal point in town and a gem in this community.”
Also coming before the FincCom on this night was Administrator of Assessing Kathleen Costello. She said that 2018 was a recertification year by the state making FY19 a year for full measurement of personal property.
Costello also reported that since 2009 abatement applications have plummeted from over 400 in 2009 to just 18 so far this fiscal year. Further, she reported that in FY12 there were over 40 pending cases at the Boston Appellate Tax Board. Today there are none. She attributes part of that reduction to more accurate collection of property owner contact information.
In her report she wrote, “This ensures clean accurate data, the cornerstone of accurate and equitable assessments.” She told the committee members, “An educated tax base is a quiet tax base.”
Costello continued to extol the benefits of having ‘chapter lands’ put into productive use via the construction of solar farms that allows cities and towns to establish P.I.L.O.T (payment in lieu of taxes) programs that produce positive tax flow over a 20-year period.
“The money is great for the town and it doesn’t pull any services,” she said. “Great revenue producer.”
On this theme she said that two additional sites – one on Tinkham Hill Road and the other on Crystal Spring Road – would most likely be the last the town will see as tariffs have been imposed on imported solar panels.
Costello also reported that the average home sale in Mattapoisett stands at $440,000 per unit, with 600 residences in the second home category. Second homes fall into a personal property category she said, allowing an additional 3% surcharge over real estate tax bases. She said she is currently conducting a study for the Department of Revenue on second homes in Mattapoisett.
Regarding her projections for the FY19 budget, Costello is currently in negotiations for a salary of $6,000 under a category titled “IT Coordinator.” She said that she and several of her staff perform this function for all town departments rather than outsourcing a more expensive service.
Her budget worksheet also shows several decreases in line items for software and hardware categories.
The next two meetings of the Mattapoisett Finance Committee are scheduled for February 7 and 8 at 6:30 pm in the town hall conference room.
Mattapoisett Finance Committee
By Marilou Newell