June 11, 2014 08:30AM
By CYNTHIA DRUMMOND
Sun Staff Writer
HOPKINTON — Residents approved the town’s $24.5 million budget Tuesday with 271, or 4.5 percent of 5,952 registered voters, casting their ballots on two items: the budget itself, and an authorization for Hopkinton to borrow up to $2 million for infrastructure repairs. The borrowing is contingent on the town receiving federal and state loans to partially fund those projects.
On the budget, 177 residents voted to approve it, and 93 voted “no.” There was one under vote, in which the voter skipped the question entirely.
The second item was also approved by a vote of 183 to 85 with three under votes.
Town Council President Frank Landolfi, who was waiting at the Town Hall for the results, said he was pleased that both items had passed.
“We put a lot of work into this budget,” he said. “I know there were only two questions on it, but a lot of work went into getting it to this point, and I’m really happy that it passed by a wide majority.”
The 2014-2015 spending plan is slightly higher — $31,966 — than the current budget. The municipal budget will also increase by nearly 4 percent, to $5.8 million.
The property tax rate will rise from $19.77 per $1,000 valuation to $21.24, or 7.4 percent, the result of lower property valuations. The town lost approximately $87 million on property valuations town-wide, resulting in a revenue shortfall of $1.6 million.
Despite that revenue loss, most taxpayers will still see a reduction in their tax payments for a second year in a row. The motor vehicle tax will remain unchanged at $21.18 per $1,000.
Many voters arriving at the town hall during the day-long referendum said they were still unsure about whether they would support it or not.
“I’m going to look at it, and vote on it after I’ve looked it over. It has its pros and cons,” Tom Kipp said.
Barry and Deirdre Lee, who moved to Hopkinton from Moosup, Conn., six months ago, were unhappy about their revaluation and subsequent tax increase.
“Our value went up $30,000 and now our taxes are going up,” Barry Lee said.
Michael Gilman said he would vote to approve the budget.
“I feel good. I hope it passes,” he said.
John Barth agreed.
“I think it’s a good budget,” he said as he went in to vote.
The town will contribute $18.2 million to the Chariho School District, a reduction of more than $250,000 attributed to lower student enrollment. Hopkinton will also receive $93,000 in state aid for education.
One of the town’s major expenses in the coming fiscal year will be $94,000 for police pensions, the result of four recent retirements. Current town employees, who received no raises in the current year, are scheduled to receive a 2 percent raise in 2015.
The budget allocates $77,000 for the purchase of two new police cruisers, and the town is putting aside $234,000 for the Town Hall consolidation project. The fund to expand the Town Hall and bring together all the town offices will total $1.18 million next year. The project is expected to cost $1.69 million.
Other major expenses include $40,000 for road repairs and maintenance and $60,000 for the second lease payment on a new street sweeper.
The town’s capital budget is $462,000. In an effort to keep the tax increase as low as possible, the council decided to use money from the town’s fund balance to prepay the coming year’s capital improvement plan. Landolfi credited that strategy with reducing taxes by approximately $500,000, or between 50 cents and 60 cents per $1,000 valuation.
Hopkinton has been operating under the 2011-2012 budget, also known as the “alternative budget” since last June, when, for the first time in the town’s history, voters rejected the proposed 2012-2013 budget. Landolfi had warned the tax rate in the coming year would rise even higher, from $21.24 to $21.35, if voters did not approve the proposed spending plan and the alternative budget took effect for another year.
“Quite honestly, it’s a lower tax rate. The alternative would have been a higher tax rate for the residents, so that was great too,” he said, adding that 271 was not a bad turnout for a budget vote.
“Not too bad. I wish it was more, but usually when there’s not a lot of folks coming out, it’s a good sign and budgets usually pass. When there’s an overwhelming number of voters, it usually means they’re upset about something.”