Easthampton Mayor LaChapelle proposes $47 million city budget

  • Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle speaks during her State of the City address, Feb. 7, 2019. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer 
Published: 5/24/2019 12:17:26 AM
Modified: 5/24/2019 12:17:15 AM

EASTHAMPTON — The city’s nearly $47 million proposed budget for next fiscal year reflects a 13 percent jump from the current year, as officials prepare to make the first bond payment for construction of a new school.

Easthampton voters in May 2018 approved a debt exclusion override authorizing borrowing for the new prekindergarten to grade 8 school to be built on the site of White Brook Middle School. In October, the City Council approved borrowing for the $109.3 million project. Of that total, the state’s School Building Authority will reimburse the city $49.3 million, leaving $60 million to be financed through local property taxes.

In fiscal 2020, the first bond payment for the school will cost $4.5 million.

Residents will have an opportunity to weigh in on Mayor Nicole LaChapelle’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget at the City Council’s finance subcommittee meeting next Wednesday at 5 p.m. at 50 Payson Ave. The committee will review the revenue, general government and Community Preservation Act portions of the budget. Once the committee finishes its review, the council will hold a public hearing on June 5 before voting on the budget.

LaChapelle said she worked with department heads to develop a new city budget with “innovative approaches and a long-term view.”

“My proposed budget reflects a prudent, steady, forward-looking fiscal approach to provide a better quality of life for our residents,” LaChapelle told councilors when she presented the budget at an April 17 meeting.

The budget includes $17.5 million for public education, $5.5 million for public safety and $1.9 million for general government.

The general government portion of the budget, which includes the mayor’s office and city departments, is going up 5.17 percent from the previous year. Increased regulations around government finances and reporting audits and a yearlong revaluation of Easthampton by the state’s Department of Revenue, were among the reasons for the increases, but the most significant was legal costs.

Collective bargaining for seven union contracts will open in fiscal 2020 and there were legal funds required in fiscal 2019 for land use and economic development projects, according to the proposed budget. The legal budget would be a 30 percent increase at $65,000.

The budget proposes $2.7 million for the police department and $2.1 million for the fire department. The police department has an increase of less than 2 percent and the fire department an increase of 3 percent.

School spending represents 68 percent of the spending from the city’s general fund, and the proposed budget would increase spending by less than 2 percent. The school budget does not include spending for the bonding for the new school.

The city is expected to collect $29,675,184 in property tax revenues in fiscal 2020, compared to $24,487,095 the previous year. Property taxes, the largest source of revenue for the city, are increasing mostly due to the debt exclusion for the school. In the proposal, property taxes would fund 63 percent of the budget.

State aid would fund 19 percent of the budget, or $8,886,390, with chapter 70 funds for schools at $8,012,362, charter school reimbursements at $179,553, and nearly $3 million in local aid.

“My administration successfully obtained the city’s highest bond rating ever of AA+ from Standard & Poor’s,” LaChapelle wrote in her budget proposal. “The diligent work of our city’s auditor, assessor and finance director made our bond offering very competitive, resulting in lower interest rates and a savings of millions in interest costs over the life of the bond.”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com

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