LONGMEADOW – Increasing the town’s revenue base will be a point of emphasis for the Select Board in 2016.
The board made that determination during a Dec. 2 meeting with facilitator Bernard Lynch to create a list of goals for the coming year.
Selectman Mark Gold said the town must strive to think of new ways to generate additional revenue.
“I’m not sure that we’ve got the right people to come up with these entrepreneurial things, which is ‘How do I generate new revenue? How do I significantly cut my costs to provide the same service?’ I’m talking about the kind of things like what would town-wide Wi-Fi do for the town to cut the municipal government’s cost?” he added.
Finance Director Paul Pasterczyk told the selectmen at its Sept. 21 meeting the town is anticipated to reach its residential tax rate limit of $25 per $1,000 of assessed value during the next five to six years based on current budget patterns.
Selectman Marie Angelides said if the town’s revenue base remains the same the community would have to decrease its number of employees with benefited positions.
“It’s something that we have to find an innovative way to providing the same services, whether it’s the schools or the [Department of Public Works] because right now our budgets … salaries are eating up a huge amount of that and if you add on top of that benefits that squeezes are infrastructure. It’s been doing that for years,” she added.
Angelides said the newly renovated Blinn Tennis Courts are available free to the public and she believes residents paying for passes could offset the cost of maintaining the structure.
Select Board Chair Richard Foster said he believes it may become difficult in the future to appropriate funds for proposed projects, including a new or renovated Adult Center, a new DPW facility, and a single new or renovated middle school.
“Our town is aged out,” he added. “We’re at the point where we’re having aged infrastructure problems. We’ve got a budget system that seems to work really well – tried and true – but the thing is how do we spend our dollars wisely for what we take in this year? How far out do we look for a plan? The needs are so plentiful.”
He noted the town would be paying the debt on the new high school until 2041.
Angelides also said the town needs to focus on better funding its Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) and continue looking on ways to regionalize services with neighboring communities.
Lynch, a facilitator for Community Paradigm Associates and a former city manager of Lowell hired by the Select Board to help improve the relationship between selectmen and Town Manager Stephen Crane, said the town might want to consider promoting more innovative thinking from town government in ways to reduce costs and better serve residents.
“People don’t think outside the bubble,” Foster said. “When was the last time we sent somebody to training?”
Crane said he believes the community’s culture has an aversion to change.
“I think there is an expectation of a level of service and I think the biggest barrier is not in the town administration or the Select Board,” he added. “I think it’s changing the level of service that people are accustomed to getting is the biggest risk.”