August 1, 2014

Chester Town and Elementary School Budgets Head for May 22 Town Vote After Quiet Public Hearing

CHESTER— A proposed $3.64 million town government budget and a $4.15 appropriation for Chester Elementary School head for a town meeting vote on May 22 after a quiet public hearing Monday.

Barely a dozen residents turned out for the budget hearing, with no calls for changes or reductions to the spending plans. The town government budget is up by $132,627 over the current appropriation, while the requested budget for the elementary school has decreased by $31,696. The total $12,507,736 spending package also includes a $342,870 capital expenditure plan, and the town’s $4,364,508 share of the Region 4 education budget.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan explained that a sharp 12 percent drop in the grand list of taxable property resulting from last year’s townwide property revaluation would require an increase in the tax rate, though decreases in assessed values for nearly all residential properties would mean that nearly all property owners would see either a decrease, or no change, in their current tax bills. The recommended tax rate for 2014-2015 is 24.82 mills, an increase of 3.87 mills from the current rate of 21.95 mills, The proposed rate represents $24.82 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

Meehan said calculations by the assessor and tax collector indicate 57 percent of all property owners would have a decrease in their tax bill, even with the higher mill rate. This total includes 60 percent of all homeowners, 65 percent of all owners of vacant land, and 17 percent of all owners of commercial property. Meehan said the finance board has decided to use about $350,000 in surplus funds to “prepay” for key items in the capital expenditure plan for 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. He said this would help limit tax increases for 2014-2015 and subsequent years.

The plan recommended by the board of selectmen and finance board would also transfer $13,287 from the town’s unexpended fund balance to cover spending in the next fiscal year, while leaving an estimated $1.83 million in the fund balance on June 30, 2015. The spending plan also includes $20,000 to fund  architectural design work for a possible new library building in North Quarter Park.

The annual budget meeting to vote on the town government and elementary school budgets is set for Thursday May 22 at 7:30 p.m. in the second floor meeting room at town hall. The Region 4 education budget goes to the voters of Chester, Deep River and Essex in a 12 noon to 8 p.m. referendum on Tuesday May 6.