Hopedale to see dramatic cuts to town services without tax override

    By Alison Bosma
    [email protected]
    Posted at 3:21 PM, June 12, 2020, Updated at 4:17 PM

    HOPEDALE – Failing to pass a tax override this year would result in irresponsible cuts to
    town services, Hopedale leaders said this week.

    “I don’t think there’s a responsible way, not from my perspective, to propose that we have a
    no override budget,” selectman Thomas Wesley said this week.

    No override will likely translate to fewer hours for all Town Hall employees, losing one to two
    police officers, dropping six call firefighters and not fixing or replacing broken equipment in
    the fire and public works departments, eliminating up to 10 school teachers, aides, or
    support staff, no sidewalk repair, halting pond and well water testing, and no summer
    recreational programs.

    “I would never support reducing an officer in this town at this point,” Board of Selectmen
    Chairman Brian Keyes said.

    Officials voted this week to hold Town Meeting Thursday, June 25, outdoors, at the Town
    Park on Dutcher Street. A special Town Meeting will begin at 5 p.m. with four articles
    intended to close out the Fiscal Year 2020 budget by moving money between accounts.

    Those are expected to be approval for about $180,000 to health insurance, $35,000 for
    trash removal, and two articles for the fire department totaling about $60,000.

    Annual Town Meeting is expected to begin immediately after, but no earlier than 5:30 p.m.
    Officials have not yet decided which articles residents will vote on, but intend to whittle the
    originally proposed 36 articles down to a select few, with a focus on the budget.

    With less than two weeks to go until the Thursday, June 25 Town Meeting, officials are still
    mulling over five budget options. All except the final version would mean maintained or cut
    services for residents, and departments working with less money than this year, and all
    options would raise taxes.

    This year’s budget was about $24.4 million with an override of just under half a million

    No override

    “A no override scenario means that the budget would actually be reduced overall,” Finance
    Committee Chairman Samuel Hockenbury said.

    That means Hopedale would be working with about $24 million for a budget.

    Resident taxes, which last year were $6,463 for the average $371,233 home, would still go
    up by about $200 for the year, because the town can raise taxes by a certain amount
    without asking resident permission for an override.

    No override would mean about a 5 percent cut across all departments.

    Level 1 – $540,701 override

    $24.5 million budget, about $427 increase on average tax bill, and about 2.5 percent cuts
    across the board.

    Town Hall employees would still lose hours in both Level 1 and Level 2 overrides, and the
    police department would continue to consider dropping police officers through Level 2. The
    school department would lose two professional development days.

    Level 2 – $919,079 override

    $24.9 million budget, about $587 increase on average tax bill, level-funded salaries, and a 2
    percent increase to expenses across the board.

    Level 2 would likely see the return of call firefighters cut in previous levels. Repair and
    maintenance budgets improve with each level, but still largely fall short. The school
    department budget would meet state-mandated increases, but see cuts to facility,
    technology, and coaching budgets, and would not replace two retiring employees.

    Level 3 – $1,173,114 override

    $25 million budget, about $694 increase on average tax bill, with the same level of funding
    as last year, across the board.

    Level 4 – $1,654,000 override

    “Level four is really the only place where we’re talking about any increases above current
    level of service or value for departments,” Hockenbury said.

    With a budget over $25 million, the town would offer a 1 percent salary increase to
    employees, and include small budget increases over the previous year.

    The average homeowner would see a tax increase of about $902 for the year.

    Hopedale’s budget scenarios so far do not account for a projected drastic cut in state aid,
    which often provides hundreds of thousands of dollars to local communities.

    “With (a) number that large we have to discuss the idea of not having a program or service,”
    Hockenbury said.

    Officials worry they may have to come back to residents for a second override, cut services
    despite overrides, or eliminate an entire service altogether – such as trash pickup – to make
    up for the lost money.

    “Were going to have to come up with a longer term plan to make sure we don’t put ourselves
    into this predicament every year,” selectman Louis Arcudi III said.

    That means re-examining expensive line items typically taken for granted, like health
    insurance, considering regionalization of some services, and creating a proper master plan
    outlining the town’s future and steps needed to get there.

    Alison Bosma can be reached at 508-634-7582 or [email protected] Find her on
    Twitter at @AlisonBosma