RUSSELL – Ruth Kennedy, chairman of the Russell Finance Committee has announced a town forum to be held at 10 a.m., Saturday, June 1 at Russell Town Hall.
The purpose of the forum will be to answer questions ahead of the Annual Town Meeting to be held on June 10.
Kennedy said the Finance Committee will have informational handouts for residents that Committee members will be prepared to explain. She said this year has been confusing because of the two different assessment methods for the Gateway Regional School District, the statutory or traditional method of assessment, and the alternative assessment which was voted for last year by all six towns, a requirement for passage. The statutory method of assessment requires support of four of the six towns for passage.
The statutory assessment bases the amount that each town must pay on the town census of students in the schools as of March 1. The alternative assessment ties each town to the same percentage increase as in the school budget, which is 1.97% for FY20. The reason the towns voted for the alternative assessment last year was to try to avoid the swings in assessments caused by the movement of a relatively few number of students into or out of each town.
Kennedy said this year, the town of Montgomery voted down the alternative assessment at their town meeting, which means the towns must revert to the statutory method. She said the Finance Committee was going to recommend a no vote on the alternative assessment, and a yes vote on the statutory assessment, before the Montgomery vote. She said this year and last year combined, Russell would have paid $300,000 more to the district in the alternative assessment than in the statutory assessment. She said under the statutory assessment this year, the increase for Gateway in the budget is $21,000 over last year.
Under the statutory assessment, Kennedy said they do not have to raise taxes. Under the alternative assessment, the tax increase would be approximately $1.40, she said, which the townspeople can’t afford.
”We had no choice, we didn’t have the money to cover it,” Kennedy said about the Finance Committee’s reason for not recommending the alternative assessment this year. However, she said, even if they had supported it, Montgomery’s vote would have ended it for FY20.
One item the Finance committee is recommending is $180,000 for a new truck and snow plow for the Highway Dept., which they hope to pay for in installments. She said the old truck is now worth only $12,000 in trade-in value, and next year will have no value at all.
The Finance Committee is also recommending increasing the salary line in the Police Department., to allow for full-time hours over the summer. Kennedy said the town has a problem with people coming to town, parking anywhere and partying by the river, where they also swim in undesignated areas and leave trash behind. She said between the Russell Police Department and the State Police, they are cracking down on such activities, and allowing people who are traveling to stop for lunch instead, which she said they couldn’t do before.
Kennedy said the auction of Strathmore Mill #2 was disappointing, because the $15,000 sale price did not cover $70,000 in back taxes that will now have to be written off. She said the sale is not finalized, but she is hopeful the buyer will invest in cleaning up the property, which is a Brownfields site, and make something happen. “My fingers are crossed,” Kennedy said.