MERRIMAC — A former elected official says he’s tired of seeing his property taxes rise steadily and would like to see the city’s spending stabilize soon.
Harry Bowen served on the board of Selectmen in the late 1980s and was a member of the finance committee in the 1970s and 1980s.
The South Pleasant Street resident has lived in town for 51 years and said his last two property tax bills rose 12.3%.
Bowen said he doesn’t recall a tax increase exceeding 5% in the past 20 years and would like to know when it will stop.
“I haven’t made any improvements in the past few years, so I’m really puzzled as to why I’m suddenly faced with this increase. I think the new norm in town is to increase spending every year up to the maximum limit allowed under the 2½ proposition,” he said.
City Administrator/CFO Carol McLeod confirmed that Merrimac has been spending up to the 2½ proposal limit for more than 20 years.
“It’s not new. We’re a bedroom community with very little commerce, so it’s almost all on the backs of taxpayers,” she said.
While he doesn’t think city spending is out of control just yet, Bowen lashed out at the police department and its $1.4 million annual budget, which he says doesn’t match up. to the needs of the city.
“Merrimac doesn’t have a single traffic light, it’s not a high crime town, and that’s where we’re going now on a $1.4 million budget. If all this money is going to new police cruisers and increased police salaries, I’m not sure I’m in favor of that,” he said.
According to McLeod, the city has worked with the police department over the past few years to achieve a staffing level of two officers per shift.
“It’s basically a matter of security. We’re trying to get them up there and that’s the main increase in their budget,” she said.
According to Bowen, the finance committee document for fiscal year 2023 indicates that the city should have $809,000 in cash available for the upcoming fiscal year and he would like to see about $100,000 of that amount used to reduce property taxes. , instead of new spending.
“I want some of that revenue to be spent on cutting taxes and not on buying a new police car, training and guns. Why do they need guns anyway? No gun has gone off around here for over 50 years,” he said. “I know you’re not going to decrease property taxes, but you can at least keep those increases to a minimum instead of going to a maximum every year.”
McLeod said available money is kept in reserve and used only for one-time expenses, if necessary.
“You don’t want to spend free money on regular, recurring expenses. It would create a structural deficit and it is not fiscally responsible,” she said.
The city’s proposed $19.9 million operating budget is up 5.2% from last year’s allocation but does not include any frivolous spending, according to McLeod, who added that the The $6.5 million New Police Station and $146.3 million Pentucket Regional Middle-High School debt service has now hit the books.
McLeod said full school debt service would add $700 to the average property tax bill of a homeowner whose property is valued at $457,000, while police station debt service would add $161 additional.
“The police station was on last fiscal year and half of the school project was on as well, so the rest of the school is continuing this year,” she said.
Voters at the Spring Annual Municipal Meeting on April 25 will also be asked to approve or decline a $470,000 Proposition 2½ waiver to pay for the Pentucket Regional School District assessment.
The city is in a strong financial position with an AA+ bond rating and $1.3 million in stabilization funds, according to McLeod.
“The stabilization helps our bond rating and represents about 6% of our budget. They like to see it between 5% and 15% to get to the AAA bond rating, but we’re in good shape,” she said.
People can handle a 2% or 3% increase in property taxes every year, according to Bowen, who said he thinks the city government is just getting a “buffer” of approval from the people when spring municipal assembly each year.
Bowen also said he remembered “really heated discussions” at town meetings in the 1970s and 1980s and thought that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“The townspeople have been pretty accommodating,” he said.
Ben Beaulieu, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he would “love” to see more people get involved with Town Meeting.
“It’s just a matter of taking the time and going out there to be heard,” he said.
Beaulieu added that the Board of Selectmen appoints people to many city boards and commissions and is always open to new volunteers.
Writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.