Insurance, Construction Drive Proposed Enfield Budget Increase

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/20/2019 10:55:52 PM

Enfield — Officials in Enfield are requesting a $6.67 million operating budget for the 2019 fiscal year, saying the 3.8 percent increase in spending is needed to pay for rising health insurance and construction costs.

“Like probably most towns, every year is a challenging budget year, and that was not really different for us,” said Town Manager Ryan Aylesworth during an interview last week.

While Aylesworth is seeking a roughly $249,000 spending increase, almost $136,000 of that comes in the form of interest and debt payments from the Route 4A sewer expansion project, which will be paid for by members of the Lakeview and Shaker Landing condominium communities, not taxes.

If those fees weren’t included in the budget, Aylesworth said the town would be looking at a 1.75 percent spending increase.

Still, Aylesworth predicts his budget would result in a property tax increase between 2.9 and 4.4 percent.

That means residents could be expected to pay anywhere between an additional $55 and $82.50 in taxes on a home valued at $250,000.

That figure doesn’t count for school taxes, which traditionally make up the larger share of annual property tax bills.

The potential tax increase is largely due to a decrease in non-property tax revenue, which comes from a combination of grants, fees and the profits from selling town-owned property, Aylesworth said. Overall, he expects that share of revenue to drop 1.4 percent “based on conservative estimates.”

A change in state law will also affect how much money Enfield is able to collect in delinquent property taxes, he said.

Beginning on April 1, the rate that municipalities can charge pre-lien will decrease from 12 to 8 percent, and the rate they can charge post-lien will fall from 18 to 14 percent.

“As a result, the amount of revenue I’m projecting us to collect from delinquent property taxes will decrease substantially,” Aylesworth said.

Enfield will also undergo a revaluation this year, with preliminary estimates suggesting that homes surrounding Mascoma Lake are now being undervalued, Aylesworth said. Overall, he expects the town’s valuation to increase two percent during the process, which takes place every five years.

The town manager’s proposed budget attempts to build up Enfield’s undesignated fund, which is made up of surpluses from previous budgets and can act as a rainy day fund in case of an emergency.

The fund had a deficit of about $120,000 roughly 18 months ago, and officials have been working to make sure it surpasses $100,000 in the coming years. Aylesworth declined to say how much the fund is expected to hold in the coming year, but said he hopes for a “significant improvement.”

“That undesignated fund balance, like capital reserves and other things, should be used for nonrecurring, one-time costs, not used to sort of subsidize your operating budget,” Aylesworth said, rejecting the practice of using the fund to pay down the town’s tax rate.

Aylesworth isn’t recommending a change to staffing levels, but hopes to re-purpose an existing position within the proposed budget.

Town Planner Scott Osgood left late last month to take a similar post in Claremont. While his successor will be charged with overseeing planning in Enfield, he or she should also have a greater focus on economic development, Aylesworth said.

“We want to encourage business growth and business activity in town,” he said. “At the same time, we want the businesses we attract to fit the culture in town.”

However, the town has struggled to maintain fixed costs, such as health insurance.

Enfield’s provider HealthTrust initially said it would have to raise rates by 10.5 percent this year. But the town managed to adjust its plans and negotiate with the company down to a 4.5 percent increase, Aylesworth said.

Costs at the Department of Public Works are on the rise, too, as construction costs continue to outpace inflation. And Aylesworth has budgeted a 2.5 percent cost of living increase for the town’s employees.

Aylesworth’s budget predicts that voters will also approve a $422,168 appropriation to the capital reserve fund, a roughly 32 percent increase over last year, which saw some funds instead allocated to the town’ strategic planning process.

The spending plan is now being reviewed by the Budget Committee, which is expected to release its own spending plan in the coming weeks.

“It’s their budget that will be presented at Town Meeting, but we have a consensus-based approach and I think they have a lot of trust in my recommendations, so based on how the last meeting went, I think this is going to be fine tuning,” Aylesworth said. “I do think my recommendations have a pretty good chance of being pretty close to where the Budget Committee ends up.”

The Budget Committee is scheduled to continue its work at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24 at the Public Works Facility, 74 Lockehaven Road. And a public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 6.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or  603-727-3223.




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