Scituate voters add $75,000 to prepare for water negotiations

Scituate voters add $75,000 to prepare for water negotiations

SCITUATE – Though the Scituate Budget Committee this week decided to remove $75,000 from the spending plan for legal services and consultants, town voters decided to keep the funds to hire appropriate professionals to help negotiate a tax agreement with the Providence Water Supply Board.

At Tuesday’s Financial Town Meeting, Jane Gurzenda, of Battey Meetinghouse Road, amended the line item to increase it by $75,000 to a total of $382,000 for legal services, at a zero percent change.

With 159 voters present, Town Moderator David D’Agostino took a voice vote and approved the amendment after some discussion.

Town Councilor Tim McCormick, council liaison to the PWSB, said that negotiations for an updated agreement of payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, should begin within the next 30 days.

He said he is attempting to have an amicable relationship with the PWSB, and emphasized that “businessmen” will be discussing the arrangement.

“First of all, lawyers are not going to be negotiating this agreement. We’ll leave it to the lawyers to craft the agreement around our business agreement,” McCormick said.

He said prior councils earmarked the funds in case new PILOT negotiations came to the point of litigation, but he said he expects to sit down with the PSWB and come to a settlement.

Richard Finnegan, of Ridge Road, said with the new tax revaluation on residential and commercial property, it is not fair to go into negotiations with the PWSB without an updated assessment of the property.

The current PILOT agreement expired two years ago, and was extended while the previous council commissioned a new assessment on PWSB property. McCormick said the town expects to get the new assessment soon.

Finnegan said that as Scituate residents incur annual tax increases that do not affect the PILOT agreement, the percentage of appropriation paid by the PWSB, the largest taxpayer in Scituate, becomes less.

“They pay less each and every year in a percentage, and the taxpayers keep paying more,” he said.

The total tax levy is $30.9 million, up 3.97 percent.

Last year’s residential tax rate was $19.39 per $1,000. After a revaluation saw property values go up 13 to 14 percent, the new equalized tax rate to account for those increased values is $17.82.

For the homeowner taxed on $250,000 of house value, the bill would be $4,455. That same amount of value would be taxed at $4,847 under the $19.39 rate, but many homeowners saw large increases in value, erasing any savings.

The town voted to approve the final budget of $37.7 million by a voice vote during Tuesday’s meeting, using $126,250 from the fund balance to close the budget gap.

The School Department used $613,608 from its fund balance to complete the budget.

Town Treasurer Ted Przybyla reported that at the end of the fiscal year 2018-2019, the town had a cash balance of $1,256,596, but after two debt payments totaling $440,013 on April 1, the remaining balance is $816,584.

Scituate has dealt with a $750,000 shortfall this year coming from a $450,000 reduction in state aid for schools, and another $275,000 from a tax sale the previous year. The two items combined led to a 2.6 percent increase in the tax levy.

In response to the decrease in state aid, the School Department cut expenses to a 0.8 percent increase, requesting $19.9 million, or $602,193 more in local appropriation for an overall three percent increase from the previous year.

Residents also suggested looking for an increase from Foster for the use of the Animal Control Department. Town Councilor Gary Grande said the town is paid $29,000 from Foster for services, but Scituate needed to hire an additional officer at a cost of $52,000.

Town Council President Jim Brady said it was something brought up in the budget process, and said he expects the town will revisit the issue.