Hadley officials look to bring town pay up to market value

Hadley Town Hall.

Hadley Town Hall. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 12-11-2023 11:19 AM

HADLEY — Enacting a classification and compensation study to ensure town staff are being paid fair wages based on similar municipal positions across the region is expected to be a priority in developing Hadley’s fiscal year 2025 budget.

With the Select Board being presented projections Wednesday showing that local sources of revenue, from real estate taxes and new growth, will yield at least $750,000, Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan said she expects a challenge in developing next year’s town budget to be staffing, especially in bringing salaries up to market value, and making sure the town starts to follow a pay scale.

“It is very expensive,” Brennan said of executing such a plan.

Brennan said once a number is attached to the wage study, it needs to be funded, observing that Hadley has been paying low rates and adjusting to the market.

The town this year has a $20.48 million budget for town and school operations.

Treasurer Linda Sanderson said she is seeing an encouraging start to the new fiscal year. From July through September, the town brought in $4.99 million in quarrterly revenues, or 26.04% of what had been projected for the year. Of that, $1.02 million was from local receipts, such as meals and lodging taxes, or at 26.79% of what had been projected. 

“We're doing well in local receipts, particularly,” Sanderson said.

For next year, $610,000 is projected in new real estate taxes, based on the 2½% increase allowed by state law, and $175,000 in new growth. Sanderson is estimating a conservative $750,000 increase in local tax revenue, even before state aid.

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Sanderson said she expects local receipts to go up by $150,000, based on local options taxes rising more than anticipated, along with new investment income.

The town is also reducing its reliance on free cash to balance the budget. Even though $1.1 million was used, $957,000 remains in that account, “which is a great place to be at this time of year,” Sanderson said.

Brennan said beyond making wages competitive, other potential staffing needs include hiring an in-house accountant, rather than continuing to outsource that position, and possibly hiring an information technology professional, work that has also been done by outside firms. Other needs may include a town planner and an expanded mental health clinician to assist on police calls.

Finance Committee Chairman David Fill told the Select Board he would like to have draft versions of the budget and Town Meeting warrant ready for Feb. 1, along with information about contracts and salaries.

In preparing the budget, Fill said that the Finance Committee would like to see more money for Other Post Employment Benefits and the capital stabilization account, so that Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion overrides are not needed for some capital purchases.

Superintendent Anne McKenzie said it is early for next year’s budget projections, but there is nothing to indicate numbers are trending in the wrong direction, with school choice revenues and vocational tuition expected to be favorable, and state grants for career development programs to continue.

“We have seen fairly consistent and increasing grant revenues to support new programs we have at Hopkins Academy,” McKenzie said. 

McKenzie said the school budget will be fiscally responsible.

School Committee Chairwoman Humera Fasihuddin said the schools are moving forward with deep energy retrofit green technologies at Hopkins Academy to save money and use electricity rather than fossil fuels. Hadley could be the first community in Massachusetts to do this with an existing school building.

Select Board member Molly Keegan suggested that a joint meeting should be held early in the new year to talk about budget issues. That was supported by member Randy Izer.

“The more minds we can get together at one time, I think it will help things through a lot faster,” Izer said

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.