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Council approves term extensions, FY13 budget

Date: 6/26/2012

June 27, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

AGAWAM — Voters will have an opportunity to weigh in "yea" or "nay" on extending the term of the town's elected officials, thanks to unanimous approval by the City Council during its June 18 meeting.

The council also approved Mayor Richard Cohen's proposed $85.4 million budget for fiscal year 2013 (FY13) by a vote of 11-0.

Two residents, Theresa Kozloski and Town Clerk Richard Theroux spoke in favor of increasing the term for City Councilors, School Committee members and the mayor from two to four years. Kozloski said she thought the term increase would result in "more stability for long-term planning, something that is needed [in town]." She also suggested staggering the elections so that voters would not be faced with choosing from a large slate of candidates at one time.

"The debates aren't that great," Kozloski said, adding that when there are too many candidates, no individual gets an opportunity to adequately present his or her platform.

Theroux praised the council's Community Relations Committee for its hard work in preparing the term extension resolution.

"I think everyone sitting here knows the grind of service and campaigning," he observed.

Noting that the counsels of both branches of the state Legislature had studied and reviewed the resolution's language, in addition to the town's legal department, Theroux said he felt the measure "would have no problem being passed" in Boston and added to the 2013 ballot.

City Council President Christopher Johnson raised the only question to the term extensions, noting that the town's charter has no provision for a recall vote, and with two-year term limits, it allowed for a quicker change if a public servant's philosophy did not match voter's needs.

During budget deliberations, City Councilor Donald Rheault asked Cohen what the expected impact of the proposed FY13 spending would be on the tax rate.

Cohen said that, if the council maintained the current 1.6 percent shift, the typical residential taxpayer with a home value of $218,000 would see an annual increase of about $35 and the commercial taxpayer would see an increase of about $72. Treasurer Laurel Placzek emphasized that the figures were still estimates, as the tax rate had not been submitted to the state for approval.

"It's a prediction and an estimation [of the tax increase] based on the numbers we have right now," Cohen told Reminder Publications.

The actual tax shift for FY13 will not be set until November, Cohen added.

Cohen noted that the $601,000 Capital Improvement budget does include an increase for FY13, funded though $2.7 million in new growth in fiscal year 2012. He added that the FY13 budget used the lowest level of free cash in 10 years — $1.25 million — and though the senior clerk position was restored for the Department of Public Works, the remaining vacant position in the Town Hall and half-time Animal Control Officer would remain unfilled.

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