Westborough continues to probe for budget savings

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Westborough continues to probe for budget savings
The Advisory Finance Committee has continued to pore over Westborough’s budget. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

WESTBOROUGH – With about two weeks remaining before Annual Town Meeting, the Advisory Finance Committee continues to pore through the fiscal 2025 budget, trying to soften the impact of a “substantial increase” in the town’s property taxes.

According to interim Finance Director Jonathan Steinberg, “The increase in taxes for fiscal 2025 is being driven by budgetary factors, not rising property values.”

He cited fixed costs (insurance, electricity, etc.) and the school budget, each increasing by $3.45 million.

“The total budget increase is projected to be 5.29%,” he said.

The school budget accounts for nearly 54% of the total municipal budget. The budget for FY25 is currently $66.966 million, or about 5.44% more than FY24. Most of the increase comes from contracted salary increases.

The average value of a single-family home increased by 5%, according to Steinberg. The value for fiscal 2025 is estimated to be $747,327, about $35,500 more than fiscal 2024.

“Bear in mind that all of these numbers are estimated projections and change as we get closer to the Fall Special Town Meeting, when we have more information about other receipts, final budget and property values,” said Steinberg.

Additions and subtractions

Some cuts have been made within the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Requests for a van for the Senior Center ($94,000) and repairs for the dam at Sandra Pond ($355,000) have been removed. A warrant request for Town Hall security upgrades has been reduced to $107,313, thanks to a state grant.

The biggest trim comes from the Westborough Public Library’s repair project. Slated for $2.85 million in the CIP, the request (a borrow) is now $1.604 million.

Within the operating budget, the Board of Health has trimmed $5,000 from its budget; it cut back hours for the public health nurse from 16 hours to 12.

There have been some additions. Westborough Public Schools is requesting a borrow of $4.1 million to replace the roof at Hastings Elementary School.

The town is also requesting $125,000 for legal services through the end of the fiscal year; $22,500 for interim services within the Finance Department; $32,500 for updates to the Open Space and Recreation Plan; $10,000 to $12,000 toward a decarbonization study for municipal buildings; and $100,000 toward a feasibility study for the Golf Club building.

Some budget numbers have yet to be announced or finalized, including the fire department union contract, and a contract with Harvey’s/Waste Management for trash and recycling services.

The biggest factors for the Westborough budget

When the fiscal 2025 budget was first announced in November, the proposed increase in property taxes for the average single-family homeowner was $955.

“The shift in the percentage of value of the residential class continues to increase slowly as residential property values continue to rise,” read the Budget Message. “This budget estimates a continued increase in the average single-family value as the broader market continues to reflect low supply and high demand in Westborough.”

When the budget summit took place on Jan. 25, the estimated increase had grown to $979.

Part of that increase stemmed from the town’s purchase of 1500 Union St. to convert into a community center; the tax impact is estimated at $53.13.

Soon after the budget summit, the town received word about state aid — there would be an increase, but not as much as anticipated. The state aid could change, as the House and Senate begin FY25 budget deliberations soon.

The projected shortfall – $151,000 — has been factored into the budget; the estimated tax increase is now $994. This includes the use of $450,000 from free cash to lower the tax rate; otherwise, the estimated increase would be more than $1,000.

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