— Westport Town Administrator James Hartnett
By Ted Hayes
Westport residents will be asked to approve a $3 million budget …
Westport residents will be asked to approve a $3 million budget override at May 2's annual Town Meeting. Should it pass, about the only thing left to decide is how best to spend it.
Select board members agreed last Monday that an override to the state's Proposition 2 1/2 tax levy cap is essential to help Westport dig itself out of a structural deficit that plagues it year after year. Assuming members of the Finance Committee agree to it (members were expected to meet Tuesday, Feb. 28) the question will be on the warrant for the Tuesday, May 2 Town Meeting.
Though the $3 million sought is a far larger override than has ever been approved in Westport, "this would only provide essentially, level services," town administrator James Hartnett told the select board last Monday.
"This is not going to make huge improvements to the town. It's essentially to get us by the next three or four years, possibly five years," he said.
If all goes as planned, residents will see several related warrant articles at Town Meeting. The first would set a budget, and another would introduce a supplemental budget subject to the passage of the override. Finally, the override itself would come to a vote.
Assuming the override passes, what will then be left is a decision on how to spend the $3 million. Several select board members, and Hartnett, said they favor spreading the proceeds out over three or four years. Doing so, and possibly putting a percentage of the funds into a stabilization fund, would help the town right its fiscal ship, propose another override five or six years down the road, or insulate the town from the need to seek another override.
Board chairwoman Shana Shufelt said the long spending route could make the most sense, and noted that if $1 million was appropriated each year, $750,000 could go to the budget with another $250,000 going to the stabilization fund. Hartnett suggested a similar formula, appropriating $750,000 per year over the next four years.
If the town can control spending during that time period, he said, the net result will be that at the end of the four years of $750,000 appropriations, that amount "might be something that we could absorb into the budget without severe detrimental impacts. We would have the potential to fund ourselves (without the need for another override) at the end of the four to five year period."
The finance committee approved a $51.68 million general fund operating budget at its Tuesday, Feb. 21 meeting.