Vote OK's plan to cover retiree fund
Aging people, not buildings, were the multi million-dollar concern at Wellesley Town Meeting last week.
Specifically of concern was making sure the town has enough money to cover retired town employees' health costs. Some 30 years ago, the town took steps to prefund its pension liability, but it has yet to tackle what some call the looming "800-pound gorilla," a projected $93 million liability for retiree healthcare costs.
For every year the town fails to put money aside to meet the obligation, says town Executive Director Hans Larsen , it grows by another $7 million .
Ideally, Larsen and other officials say, the town should set aside $3 million a year for 30 years. But for now, they are seeking a property tax increase through a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion that would last 10 years, and plan to revisit the issue when the time is up.
Town Meeting voters last week agreed. The question will go on the ballot of a special townwide election to be held in May.
The tax impact would be $165 a year for the owner of a house with Wellesley's median assessed value, $824,000.
It may be a tough sell. If Town Meeting approves, voters will also be asked to support another temporary tax increase: a $14.5 million debt exclusion to pay for a bundle of capital projects. They include artificial turf at Sprague Elementary School; repairs to school buildings; managing the cleanup of Morses Pond; and addressing flooding problems from storm drainage.
The tax impact is expected to be spread out over 10 years, with the burden rising then falling. The median home's tax bill would grow by $40 in fiscal year 2008; $111 in fiscal 2009; and $186 in fiscal 2010 before seeing a drop in the increase.
Requests for tax overrides have become routine in Wellesley. In six of the last seven years, voters have approved operating overrides. Unlike debt exclusions, which expire when a project is paid off, operating overrides permanently increase the amount of property taxes a town can collect.
But voters this year are expected to be wary of any tax increase proposal. They approved a $3.2 million override last spring, with more than half going to the schools. In its push for the override, the School Committee painted a dire budget picture. A month after it passed, the panel gave outgoing superintendent Matthew King an 8.5 percent raise, angering many residents.
Kate Kane-Leach questioned School Committee chairman Michael Young about the raise during his presentation to Town Meeting on Tuesday night. It is likely to come up again when Town Meeting debates two citizen articles that Kane-Leach is spearheading that would require school and town officials to make monthly financial reports.
The budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is balanced, and so does not require a tax override. Approved Tuesday by Town Meeting, it calls for $104 million in expenses to be covered by $103 million in revenues and approximately $1 million from the town's reserve fund. It is the first budget with expenses topping $100 million, officials said.