Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019'FY24 has no deficit because ... we exercised discipline to keep our commitments to reduce that deficit.'
      -- Steve DeCourcey

UPDATED Oct. 28: Town Manager Sandy Pooler presented Arlington’s current and upcoming bottom-line budget numbers to the Select Board at its Monday, Oct. 24, meeting. The Long-Range Planning Committee recently put in place final numbers for fiscal 2023 and forecasts for fiscal 2024 through '28, he said. 

Arlington has a balanced budget for fiscal '24 -- but a $4.5 million deficit projected for the fiscal year after that. In ensuing years, the forecast deficit grows, to $20 million in fiscal 2026, $25 million the year after and $30 million in fiscal '28, explained Pooler. Download the budget spreadsheet here >>

Pooler said that free cash was very high last year, which gave Arlington a boost for fiscal '25 in the long-range plan. However, he said, “I’m not ready to make a particular override amount or timing.” Download the free-cash report here >> 

The budget glossary on the town website explains “free cash” >>

“We have a structural deficit in town. Things cost more than the limits of Proposition 2½, and we have to ask the town’s residents about an override that they can vote on. We’ll still look forward to Governor Baker’s budget when it comes out in February. That may change some of our numbers, but things are pretty well set now,” said Pooler.

Thus, the specific amount for any projected tax override remains unknown. For an override to be established, the Select Board must vote on an amount and a date.

“FY23 had new growth of $1.1 million, higher than in past years, which indicates that the real estate market has been fairly active. But with the economy and inflation going up, I don’t think that’ll increase as much going forward,” Pooler said. 

Pooler also said he’ll continue to have future conversations with the Long-Range Planning Committee as well as department heads about what they might need, and about what the town’s budgets should be. “I’m keeping an eye on it, making sure there’s sufficient funds for departments to get their work done. This forecast is iterative, and we keep tweaking it as we go along.”

The next meeting of the Long Range Planning Committee was held at 8 a.m. Friday, Oct. 28. It was brief, with few suggestions, none discussed in detail. The next meeting of the committee was set for Dec. 16. 

Select Board feedback

Board member Steve DeCourcey, Long-Range Planning Committee chair, said that Arlington’s last override was in 2019, and the five-year plan included a $5.5 million override. See the results here >>

He said that in each period since then, the town has met its commitments. “FY24 has no deficit because throughout this time period, we exercised discipline to keep our commitments to reduce that deficit. However, with Proposition 2½, we’re limited to how much growth we can have from year to year.”

Proposition 2½ is the 1980 law adopted in Massachusetts that, with some exceptions, prohibits a community from increasing its property-tax revenue more than 2.5 percent per year, unless its voters approve a tax override.

Board member John Hurd said, “It’s beneficial for us as a board to start engaging and educating the public, especially with an override looming, and explain what the new growth is with Proposition 2½. This is the reality we live in, and will be a part of our day-to-day life.

“People tend to forget that we’ve had a long break from overrides. Compared to the numbers we saw before, we’re in a much better position now. We take these numbers very seriously, particularly in the current economic climate. We want to give the town what it needs, without anything less or anything more.”

Chair Len Diggins also expressed concern about the rate of increase. “We all know that taxes can go up only 2½ percent. This is significantly below the rate of inflation, so I’m a little concerned that expenses are going to be more as the years progress.”

Board member Diane Mahon said, “I’d be interested in tracking the ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] positions and/or projects that we’re funding. When the Long-Range Planning Committee meets, maybe that’s something we can offer the school system. I see this maybe affecting the school side; if it passes, I’d want to know what it means for the town side and services.”

Open-forum input

During the meeting’s open forum, Precinct 15 Town Meeting member Carl Wagner encouraged the board and town employees to be careful with costs. “The School and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion departments are looking to hire new positions, and the Parks and Recreation departments to add stuff on Hills Hill that may not be used for biking. We should be looking at a $5 million structural deficit once the ARPA funds go away.” He suggested that the town focus on important things, such as schools, and work with Pooler to trim the budget until Arlington clears the deficit. 

Feb. 9, 2022: Manager says proposed $196m fiscal '23 budget prepares for future override

This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. It was updated Oct. 28, to add a note about that morning's committee meeting.

Editor's note: The town must operate with a balanced budget.

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