WESTFIELD – A public hearing and two Special City Council meetings have been set for Thursday, Dec. 10.
At the first Special City Council meeting at 5 p.m., Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. will be requesting approval of a $5 million supplemental budget. At 6 p.m., will be the public hearing on the tax shift, followed at 7 p.m. by a Special City Council meeting to vote on the Fiscal Year 2021 tax rate. Also in the 7 p.m. meeting will be the continuation of a public hearing to permit the Westfield Barnes Airport to temporarily store up to 280 trailers.
Humason said the $5 million supplemental budget request is due to more money coming into the city than anticipated when he set the budget in June. He said he anticipates no change in the tax shift or the tax rate from last year.
“When I did the budget, I anticipated a 10 percent cut from the state. Appraisals are higher than we anticipated, and that revenue will be there. The long and the short of it is, that extra revenue is more accurate than when we did the budget earlier in the year. We’re reappropriating where it gets spent,” Humason said.
There are two proposals for appropriation on the agenda for the supplemental budget. The first is to split the $5 million into different accounts; $1 million for sidewalks and roads; $1 million to the Westfield Public Schools Capital accounts to upgrade science labs and shops at Westfield HIgh School and Westfield Technical Academy; $100,000 to the OPEB account for post-employee benefits, and $2.9 million to the city’s stabilization fund.
The second proposal is to put all $5 million into the stabilization account. Humason said he prefers the first proposal, because it is more flexible.
City Council President Brent B. Bean II and Finance sub-committee chair Ralph J. Figy have been meeting with Humason and his finance team in preparation for Thursday’s meetings. Also consulted were At-large Councilor Richard K. Sullivan Jr., who served as mayor of Westfield from 1994 to 2007, and Long-term Finance chair Dave Flaherty.
“This was a situation that I realized was going to happen about a month ago, that there was a difference in the figures that we used to do the June FY21 budget from what the governor has proposed in December. Once I realized that we were under budget, I called the finance team for the city and we started to work on what needed to be done,” Figy said.
He said fellow Councilors Bean, Sullivan and Flaherty joined the effort, and as a result the taxpayers of Westfield will benefit.
“I hate to do things that are rushed, because you’re more likely to make a mistake. If the state had set the budget back in June, we wouldn’t be under the gun like we are now,” Figy added.
“We’re really in good shape. We’re able to use some money from new growth to offset the taxes this year,” Bean said. He said between new growth being higher than expected, and with the city having expected the worst from the state, there is $4.5 million to put into stabilization, construction accounts for road projects, lab renovations and other projects at WHS and WTA, and OPEB.
“We’d rather see more money go into stabilization because we don’t know what the budget is next year,” Bean said. He said the city also anticipates a healthy Free Cash number, but they can’t wait for it to be certified before setting the tax rate.
Flaherty said new growth this year comes from a $22.2 million investment from Eversource in new infrastructure, bringing in an $826,000 increase in taxes He said the Home Depot warehouse also came online with new equipment, which will bring in $512,000 in new taxes. Several businesses have also come to the end of their tax incentive financing (TIF) with the city, which means $629,00 in new taxes this year and going forward.
Flaherty said normally, new growth is $900,000 to $1.2 million, but this year new growth is $2.6 million. “We are reaping the benefits of our city advancement officer’s efforts to grow the business tax base… and we should work to immediately hire the next city advancement officer so that in future years we continue to receive benefits from `new growth,’ “ he said.
Flaherty also said this year’s budget originally had a tax increase of 2.5 percent built in, but the city will now bring it to zero, and save the taxpayers $1.9 million. “All the tax bills all across the city, should be the same as last year,” he said.
“My recommendation was to put the whole $4.4 million in stabilization rather than rushing,” Flaherty said. “What we got this year from the state, we may not be able to get next year. They’re hoping the federal government will come through with some sort of state aid,” he said.
“I think it’s important when we go to set the tax rate that we’re making sure we’re giving relief to residents and businesses, and we have the ability to do that this year. Needs to be our focus,” said Sullivan.
“Obviously, the state aid is more than what was budgeted, I will say back in May and June I thought the then-auditor was using a significantly lower number than we needed to do, which creates a situation where we need to act quickly to account for the dollars and do it smartly,” Sullivan said, adding that quick deadlines are never the best way to work.
“I don’t believe in spending money until you get it in your hand,” Humason said, adding, “The battle is already won. The health of the city is better than we thought, revenue from the state is good, we’re not raising anybody’s tax rate, and the tax shift stays the same. That’s the good news.”
Residents who wish to participate in the tax shift public hearing on Zoom at 6 p.m. may do so by calling 1-646-558-8656, ID 859 2047 3514, passcode 99662475.