November 11, 2019 by Carol Britton Meyer
It's budget season again!
Selectman Mary Power made a presentation recently that Selectmen Chairman Karen Johnson said would “set the stage for upcoming [Fiscal 2021] budget discussions.”
Power noted that “it will be challenging to live within our means in the future, because there’s not much new growth [new development, etc.]”
Johnson emphasized the board’s goal of “preserving the financial diversity of Hingham’s population.”
This could prove challenging considering the $841,276 average assessed home value and accompanying $10,000-plus annual tax bill.
Fifty percent of Hingham households have an annual income of less than $100,000. By 2020, 47 percent of the households will have members age 65 and over.
Power noted that many Hingham seniors (and some others) are living on fixed incomes and that 25 percent of Hingham’s families have children enrolled in the Hingham Public Schools.
Of top priority for the board is providing some tax relief, pursuing grant and other funding opportunities, exploring public/private partnerships for some of the capital projects under consideration, and working toward more development in South Hingham that’s appropriate for the area to lessen the tax burden on residential property owners, who shoulder most of the tax burden.
“From 2000 to 2018 the town invested $176.6 million in assets — or just under $10 million a year,” Power said. “We may need to spend more in coming years because of the number of capital projects under consideration.”
Projects accomplished during this time included the new East School, Plymouth River and South School renovations; the high school turf field and track, a new Middle School, library renovations, Whitney Wharf improvements, capital outlay, and many others. The Massachusetts School Building Authority paid a portion of the Middle and East School costs.
The town has a number of large capital needs that are under consideration — Foster School, North and South fire stations, Town Hall (including the police, Hingham Rec, the Senior Center, school department, and administration.)
Additional projects could include the library, other school projects, and recommendations resulting from the Master Plan currently underway.
Power noted that the average annual tax increase under Proposition 2-1/2 is $250. As an example she explained that should the town take on an additional $40 million in debt to pay for some of the projects on the table, that would amount to an additional tax increase of $428 for the average taxpayer in year one, with an average tax bill impact over 20 years of $6,960.
Power said town officials are hearing from some citizens that the annual Proposition 2-1/2 increase “is a difficult challenge. We are mindful of the taxpayers. It’s important to socialize all proposed projects and consider the cumulative impact on taxes.”
Most major capital projects cannot be fully funded within the operating budget, according to Power and would require a debt exclusion (a temporary tax increase).
“This provides assurances to [citizens] that we’re being prudent and exercising our financial responsibility,” Selectman Joseph Fisher said following Power’s presentation.