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The Select Board is still discussing the mechanics of the override and the actual amount. The budget gap in FY25 is approximately $5.3M and in FY26 is approximately $4.7M. For reference, each $1 million in an override would add an additional $112 to the annual property tax bill for a home with the average home value in Westford ($756,500.) The Assessors Office and Technology Department are working on a tax rate calculator for FY25 which will provide an estimate for each properties tax bill with the override amount.
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Proposition 2 1⁄2 allows a community to assess taxes in excess of the automatic annual 2.5 percent increase and any increase due to new growth by passing an override. A community may take this action as long as it is below its levy ceiling, or 2.5 percent of full and fair cash value. An override cannot increase a community’s levy limit above the level of the community’s levy ceiling.
When an override is passed, the levy limit for the year is calculated by including the amount of the override. The override results in a permanent increase in the levy limit of a community, which as part of the levy limit base, increases at the rate of 2.5 percent each year.
A majority vote of the Select Board allows an override question to be placed on the ballot. Override questions must be presented in dollar terms and must specify the purpose of the override. Overrides require a majority vote of approval by the electorate.
In 2017 Westford voters supported an override to bring teacher pay to the average level within our “market basket” group of similar communities. The Town’s target was to bring our teacher pay up to average level over the three years of the contract (FY18, 19 and 20.) The amount of money designated in the override was committed to teacher salaries and teachers received all raises agreed to by contract.
In the past year, the Town has identified numerous budget challenges for future fiscal years arose which would require the expenditure of town funds well in excess of what has been allocated to those individual town functions previously. Over the course of the past year, we have experienced generational high inflation, renewing union contracts in this high inflation environment, extremely high health insurance claims by our employees, the knowledge that our solid waste vendor was not looking to renew their contract (traditionally, very low pricing), a bus contract renewal and special education tuitions that are dictated by the State and not the Town.
For a detailed walk through all of the data supporting this information, please review the following Budget Task Force Informational Videos.
The Town Manager and Select Board are formulating expense and revenue projections for the next three years. It is the intent to ask for an override that would cover a two/three year period. We do not know how the economy will react over the next three years so it is hard to predict if we will be asking for another override in the future.
Westford is not the only community in this situation. Arlington passed an override for FY25 in November of 2023. Groton, Dracut, Acton and other municipalities are considering an override. Their Town Meetings are later than Westford’s.
When the library expansion project came before the Town, many of the challenges that we are currently facing were not known. Over the course of the past year, we have experienced generational high inflation, renewing union contracts in this high inflation environment, extremely high health insurance claims by our employees, the knowledge that our solid waste vendor was not looking to renew their contract (traditionally, very low pricing), a bus contract renewal and special education tuitions that are dictated by the State and not the Town.
The library project was authorized by a vote of what is known as a Debt Exclusion. This funding is outside of proposition 2 ½ cannot be used or given to the operating budget. The debt exclusion for the library will fall off the tax roll after the note has been paid off. The override is a permanent tax increase.
Town residents have voted seven times on the funding, grant approvals and debt exclusion related the Library Planning and Design Grant and the following Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program Grant dating back to March 2012:
DATE OF VOTE
March 26, 2012 ATM
Capital of $20,000 to match Planning & Design Grant
March 22, 2014 ATM
Approved to Apply For, Accept & Expend Grant Funds [Planning & Design Grant]
Passed by Majority
March 28, 2015 ATM
$35,000 Library Feasibility Study
October 17, 2016 STM
Approved to Apply For, Accept & Expend Grant Funds [MPLCP Grant]
June 11, 2022 ATM
$10,000 Library Cost Estimating
October 17, 2022 STM
Appropriate Funding for Library Expansion
Yes: 436 No: 141
November 8, 2022
Question 2 Debt Exclusion Vote
Yes: 6620 No: 4212
As of mid-January 2024, Westford has spent $301,178.32 of the first grant disbursement from the State.
We contacted the Division of Local Services (DLS) to ask the mechanics to rescind a debt exclusion vote once it is passed, and under MGL Ch 59 Sec 21C, there is no process that expressly authorizes communities to rescind and approved debt exclusion vote. A town meeting could vote to rescind a borrowing authorization to the extent that funds are unencumbered. This usually occurs after a project is completed. As shown above, spending on this project has already begun. The DLS noted that only a handful of towns have considered recission of a borrowing in the past.
If the library project does not move forward, the funds that we have spent from the State will have to be returned and we will have to budget for building repairs and maintenance that are not currently budgeted for. We will also lose out on the $8.68M grant funding that the Town has been authorized to receive.
The Town of Westford has a range tax exemptions available for seniors, veterans, disabled and others. Please see the chart linked below for more information. The Chief Assessor will be giving a presentation to the Select Board on February 13, 2024 on these exemptions.