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Royalston voters endorse one override, shoot down another

  • Residents raise their hands for a vote Friday night during Royalston’s annual town meeting. —Photo/Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 5/14/2019 10:00:50 PM
Modified: 5/14/2019 10:00:44 PM

ROYALSTON — Voters on Friday night took a short time to OK funding for the two school districts to which the community belongs. With little debate, just over $617,000 was approved for the Athol Royalston Regional School District budget, an increase of about 10.5 percent over the current fiscal year. Voters also approved spending approximately $90,000 for the Montachusett Regional Vocational School District, a drop of more than $32,000 from FY19. The decrease is attributed to fewer Royalston students enrolling at Monty Tech for next academic year.

The total ARRSD spending package for FY20 is nearly $24.8 million, which includes a debt payment of about $105,000. Monty Tech’s budget for the new fiscal year, which starts July 1, stands at just over $28.7 million.

Once the education budgets were dispensed with, Selectboard Chairwoman Christine Long told voters, “We took a major step forward this year with the creation of a capital plan. I just can’t tell you how important that is to this town. It guides our planning and avoids government-by-crisis, which is what we’ve done so often in the past. The projects they (the Capital Planning Committee) identified for the 10-year period, they found needed an average of $400,000 a year. Last year, we predicted that this year we’d have problems even meeting our operating budget; that prediction has come true.”

Two big reasons for a tightening budget, said Long, include decreases in state aid and increases in the cost of education.

Voters subsequently approved spending just over $71,000 from the $270,000 Capital Stabilization Fund created specifically to pay for capital plan items. The expenditure included nearly $21,000 to pay the third of five loan payments for a one-ton dump truck, more than $33,000 the second payment of a five-year loan for a DPW loader, $8,3000 for the second of four payments for a Police Dept. SUV, and just over $8,400 for the second of 10 payments funding upgrades to Athol Royalston Regional High School.

In order to set aside monies for future expenses generated by the Dept. of Public Works, voters endorsed a $200,000 Proposition 2½ override to establish a Road Improvement Stabilization Fund.

Finance Committee Chairman Larry Siegel explained, “This $200,000 will occur every year. We’ll have to have an override every single year for $200,000 we’re spending on the roads. What we’re doing, essentially, is opening up a new account, a road maintenance account, and it’s going to have $200,000 put into it every year; and if it’s not all spent that year, it’s going to back into the treasury.”

FinCom member Rebecca Krause-Hardie said, “The reality is our current town budget doesn’t pay for the roads, we get Chapter 90 funds (from the state). We want a professionally engineered plan that says what roads are going to be fixed. We currently have 80 miles of road in town, and if you were to add up $500,000 to a million dollars per mile to fix those roads you would need a budget of, like, $50 million to $80 million. Currently, we have $220,000. This is an attempt to put together a plan that starts doing more work on those roads.”

Even though it was pointed out that a $200,000 override would result in an 11.5 percent increase in the property tax rate, the proposal was ultimately passed by a margin of 48 to 15, thus surpassing the two-thirds majority required for passage. The plan must now be approved in a town-wide vote at a special election. Long said a date for balloting has not been set but said it would likely take place some time in September.

A proposal for an override to add $200,000 to the Capital Stabilization Fund received the support of a majority of voters, 39 to 25, but fell short of the two-thirds necessary for passage.

Voters did approve spending an additional $59,000 from the Capital Stabilization Fund, after plans to seek $50,000 for the first of five payments for a new DPW dump truck were dropped from the article. Monies approved will pay for the painting of Town Hall, restoration of the Riverside and Center Hearse houses, improvements to the drainage at Fire Station 1, drainage upgrades at the Raymond School, preparation of donated land at Stewart-Maple Cemetery, and repairs to two pumping stations on Main and King streets.

In total, voters approved using $130,000 in Capital Stabilization Fund monies.

The final FY20 operating budget, including education funding, topped out at around $2.34 million.

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