Royalston officials: Town’s financial situation ‘challenging’

  • Royalston Selectboard member Deb D'Amico (standing), who will soon take the position of boar Chair, reads a statement on the town's financial predicament from Finance Committee Chair Rebecca Krause-Hardy at Tuesday's all-board meeting at the Town Hall.  —Greg Vine

  • Current Selectboard Chair Chris Long making a point at Tuesday’s all-boards meeting in Royalston. Looking on from behind Long is Town Moderator George Northrop. Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 9/26/2019 9:50:16 PM
Modified: 9/26/2019 9:50:10 PM

ROYALSTON – To the outsider, Royalston may seem the very picture of an idyllic New England town, but discussions at an all-board meeting Tuesday night revealed the community has a number of serious issues to deal with.

Selectboard member and soon-to-be Chair Deb D’Amico began the meeting by reading a statement from Finance Committee Chair Rebecca Krause-Hardie, who was unable to attend.

Her report frankly painted the town’s financial situation as challenging.

In her correspondence, Krause-Hardie said the town’s main sources of revenue – mainly personal property and real estate taxes, state aid, and miscellaneous revenue, known as local receipts, along with a few grants – don’t provide the cash needed to pay the town’s bills.

“The two biggest expenses,” D’Amico read, “are the schools and snow and ice. School costs continue to rise and, on average, cost more than the 2 ½ percent increase we have available. This places more pressure on the rest of the budget.”

“This year was an important turning point for the town,” she went on, “because for the first time – and this is important – we could not raise enough in taxes to pay for the normal operating budget.”

“As a result,” she continued reading, “we had to use a small portion of our savings to cover the budget. We can’t sustain this over the long haul...The town owns a number of buildings, 70-some miles of road, land, the sewer treatment plant, and numerous vehicles. Maintaining these valuable assets costs more than we can afford without more money coming in.”

While noting potential income from a solar array planned for the former landfill and from a potential cannabis cultivation facility, Krause-Hardie noted the revenue wouldn’t be enough in itself to meet the town’s needs.

Jim Barclay, chair of the Building Committee, followed with the daunting information that an architect looked at redesigning Whitney Hall to hold 12 of 13 offices needed by the town, and was informed the cost of the project would run close to $3.4 million.

“So, unless we can find some amazing source of funding,” he said, “Whitney Hall is not a solution to our space problem.”

Meanwhile, according to Barclay, renovating the Raymond School to house nine municipal offices and a conference room is pegged at around $2.5 million which, he added, “is a more doable number.”

Voters at a recent special election approved a Proposition 2 ½ debt exclusion of $145,000 to cover the cost of cleaning up asbestos, lead, and other hazardous materials at the 80-year-old building.

There was general agreement the town will have to be creative when it comes to finding financing to meet the basic needs of the town.

The property tax rate in Royalston for 2015, the most recent year available on the Tax Collector’s page on the town website, was quoted as $13.11 per $1,000 of valuation. According to the real estate website Zillow, the median home value is $220,000.

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