Your recent June 17 article about the results of Somerville’s town meeting deserves correction (“Somerville voters pass $565,275 municipal budget“). While the numbers are accurate, the story gives the reader a false impression of what is driving up property taxes. The amount approved at town meeting for the fire department plus stipends is still less than was approved the prior year. Thus the fire department is not the cause for rising property taxes.

There are a number of factors driving up spending in some parts of the budget, such as the required Trio upgrade, keeping competitive office pay, and catching up with actual costs that were under-budgeted last year. Cuts were made in other places to reduce the overall budget increase. The fire department is one area where cuts were planned, and through the decisions of townspeople at town meeting, a lesser amount was cut, but it was still a cut, not an increase, compared to last year.

It is true that the final approved municipal budget was $565,275 and that the prior year’s budget was $524,882. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Last year’s budget did not reflect that the balance of the road construction bond money was also spent last year toward capital road construction. Nor did it reflect the road contingency spending that was required to correct road failures on Somerville Road before paving could be completed. The final payment of $21,500 for that paving was in fact paid out of the budget just approved on June 15. Last year’s budget included $9,374 less for snow removal than the final contract price for that work. Last year’s approved budget also appropriated $50,000 from surplus toward capital road improvement, and another $50,000 from surplus toward reduction of property taxes. The net effect of all these things was a huge drain on the working balance of our General Fund, leaving too little surplus to use in this year’s budget.

Year over year municipal revenue figures also tell only part of the story. In 2018 Somerville was able to apply $217,625 toward reduction of property taxes at tax commitment. But municipal revenues were only around $167,625. The rest was the $50,000 of surplus appropriated at town meeting for reduction of taxes, something we are unable to do on the upcoming 2019 tax commitment.

All these factors, and the education increase caused by an increase in students from Somerville, contribute to what Somerville must raise through property taxes.

Chris Johnson is first selectman in Somerville.


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