Royalston calls Special Town Meeting to settle $50,000 debt

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 02-15-2024 5:01 PM

ROYALSTON – A Special Town Meeting has been scheduled to settle several outstanding debts among various town departments.

Set for Saturday, March 2, at 10 a.m. at Royalston Town Hall, the warrant consists of a single article which asks voters “to raise and appropriate, transfer or borrow a sum of money” to settle these debts in order that the tax rate can be set and bills mailed to residents.

Asked to explain the need for the Special Town Meeting, Board of Assessors Chair Jim Richardson said, “Let’s go back to the beginning. Sometimes you have accounts that go into deficit – they wanted $1,000 for the year but they spent $1,100 – and usually by the end of a fiscal year you satisfy those deficits by transferring monies from one account to another to make it all even out.”

Those transfers, said Richardson, were not done at the end of FY23, which concluded June 30, 2023.

Richardson then explained that, moving into FY24, the town was unable to set a tax rate because various town accounts had not been balanced, meaning the town still owed $89,000 in debts from the previous fiscal year. The discrepancy was discovered by Eric Kinsherf an accountant hired by the town in September 2023.

“When we go to Town Meeting to spend our money for the year, we always spend right to the levy limit,” Richardson said. “Because of the fact we do our tax rate later in the season and not in the fall, we find out from this new accounting firm that we are $89,000 in deficit. And that needs to be rectified before we can go into our next fiscal year; those accounts have to be satisfied. So, that $89,000 puts us over the levy limit.”

Luckily, Richardson said, the town had collected $26,000 in new growth revenues; about $16,000 more than anticipated. With additional small amounts of revenue found, he said the town was able to bring the deficit down to approximately $50,000.

The only way to secure that amount, said Richardson, is to go to Town Meeting, because voters must decide where to get the funds to satisfy the debt. It’s his opinion that borrowing funds to close the deficit is off the table, with which Selectboard Vice Chair Deb D’Amico agrees.

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“It looks like we’re going to be recommending that the money be taken from the stabilization account,” D’Amico said. “I don’t have the number in front of me, but I believe there’s about $130,000 in stabilization. So, I believe at the Special Town Meeting that that will be the recommendation from the assessors.”

Once the outstanding debts from FY23 are satisfied, town officials will be able to set the tax rate for FY24. Adam Hemingway of Regional Resource Group, the company hired by the town to handle property assessments, told the Selectboard at its meeting last week that the tax rate will end up being $9.47 per $1,000 of property valuation.

Richardson said wording in the warrant article stating monies used to satisfy the old debt—whatever their source—would be used to “reduce the FY24 tax rate” is somewhat misleading. He explained that Royalston taxpayers receive two property tax bills each year. The bill received in the fall is simply an estimate based on half of the previous year’s total tax obligation. The bill taxpayers receive in the spring is based on the final property assessments as approved by the state, as well as state affirmation that the town’s finances are in order.

While the March meeting next month could have taken place on the same day as the Annual Town Meeting in June, Richardson said that it’s important for the tax bills to be sent out as soon as possible to generate revenue.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.