An increase in student enrollment, a bump in pension costs and a loss in state aid will likely result in bigger tax bills for Bristol residents.
This week, the Bristol Town Council began its review of the town’s $47,872,964 budget for fiscal year 2014. Prior to meeting face-to-face with each department head to review budget requests, town administrator Tony Teixeira presented the budget as a whole, requesting a property tax increase of .36 cents — from $12.43 (per thousand dollars of assessed value) to $12.79.
“While the town is in good fiscal health, we are facing some unique challenges this year,” Mr. Teixeira said.
“The overall budgeted expenditures of the general fund rose by 3.9 percent. This was due primarily to an increase in student enrollment, as well as increases in pension and OPEB (other post employment benefits) contributions.”
“Even with this proposed increase, we will rank eighth lowest in the state,” Mr. Teixeira said.
That ranking, however, measures only dollar amounts, without factoring municipal services provided for a true comparison.
While the budget request includes a tax increase to meet the additional $1.6 million needed, Mr. Teixeira also proposed moving $1 million from the capital account and fund balance to the general fund to alleviate some of the tax burden on property owners.
The three areas that particularly influenced the budget increase are loss of state funding for schools ($817,000), an increase in Bristol’s student enrollment and therefore the town’s share of the school budget ($600,000) and pension obligations ($500,000).
“This year we’ve taken a bit of a hit,” Mr. Teixeira said. “We have a fiduciary responsibility and we’re going to face them now. We’re not going to bury our heads in the sand.”
Town treasurer Julie Goucher said that a “conservative and creative” approach to building a budget is a necessary strategy the town will continue to use to meet its financial obligations, continue the level of service that residents expect and maintain an adequate reserve.
“The investment world is changing,” Ms. Goucher said. “We’re probably never going to see the returns” on investments that helped fund the budget needs in the past. “We have to look at alternatives.”
While maintaining a 15 percent reserve is optimal to ensure a positive bond rating, Ms. Goucher was cautiously optimistic that transferring $1 million from the reserve into the general fund would still keep the reserve between 12 and 15 percent.
“That’s still very good, but we’re cautious,” she said.
In Dec. 2012, Mr. Teixeira, Ms. Goucher and each department head began the budgeting process, looking to cut costs wherever possible.
“For as much as we sharpen pencils, expenses still go up,” Mr. Teixeira said. “Julie and I feel comfortable with the information that was presented and what was proposed.”