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Westerly tax sale credited with expected surplus

WESTERLY — The town is in line to finish fiscal year 2014 with a $259,000 surplus, according to a third quarter budget report prepared by Interim Director of Finance Deb Bridgham.

While the town’s expenditures are expected to exceed the budget, higher than expected revenues, attributed mostly to a successful tax sale conducted in November, are projected to result in the surplus, Bridgham told the Town Council Monday.

Expenditures are over budget by $1.9 million year to date, a development that drew the concern of some councilors, but Town Manager Michelle Buck noted Thursday that $9.9 million, or virtually all of the town’s debt service for the fiscal year, was posted as an expenditure during the reported period. Projections for the end of the year call for expenditures to be $930,947 over budget. Revenues are projected to come in over budget by $1.5 million.

Of the $930,947 projected expense overage, about $272,000 worth are financial items for the school and sewer departments that pass through the town budget and are posted as both expenditures and revenues.

A projected expenditure overage of $184,906 in the legal services account is largely due to expenses the town accrued in cases involving Copar Quarries of Westerly and its landlord, Westerly Granite Co Inc., Bridgham said.

An additional expense, not accounted for when the budget was approved in April 2013, is a payment of about $181,200 to the state Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS). The payment is the first of five that will be made in five years. The town’s MERS contribution came due following the retirement of Charles Vacca, former tax assessor. Vacca was the last town employee to participate in the MERS. The payment includes funds for additional former employees who retired earlier.

The rest of the projected overspending is due to the $335,881 cost of converting the Town Hall heating system from oil to natural gas, $9,500 for an upgrade to the Town Hall lighting system, $6,000 for the installation of heat sensors in municipal buildings, $7,300 for replacing paneling and walls in Town Hall, and $10,000 for the purchase of two dehumidifiers for the Westerly Police Department gun room.

Bridgham said officials are closely monitoring expenses related to the ongoing recovery from Superstorm Sandy, which decimated the Misquamicut area in October 2012. The town has set aside about $200,000 in a contingency fund for anticipated recovery expenses that have not yet been paid as the town awaits information from federal agencies providing grants to help with a portion of the recovery. Additional spending on the storm is not expected to occur until the new fiscal year begins on July 1, Bridgham said.

The November tax sale generated $175,256, but prior to the sale the town collected $1.1 million of prior year overdue taxes. Other revenues are projected to be $332,000 under budget.

Town department heads must keep a close eye on their budgets in the coming year as the town should not expect another windfall in revenues, Bridgham said.

Buck agreed.

“We can not expect an influx of funds every year...the budget is the budget is the budget,” Buck said.

In addition to quarterly reports, the finance department keeps an eye on expense trends and tries to make detailed projections on the cost of expenses such as electricity, Bridgham said. Additionally, she said, plans call for regular meetings of the town’s “Plan B” committee, a group that studies the budget and develops plans to respond throughout the course of a given financial year.

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