FinCom Sets FY 2024 Budget Guidance

Reading, MA — By a vote of 8-0 the Finance Committee (FinCom) approved the use of $3.28 million of the town’s free cash reserves in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget on Wednesday. Town Accountant Sharon Angstrom reported that she expects free cash to be certified at $19.8m. Angstrom also reported that she anticipates $115.6 million in revenue for FY 2024. Angstrom shared that due to a combination of unexpected revenue and unspent budget line items, that over $4 million of free cash has been regenerated annually for the last five years, though she continued to comment that she never anticipates more than $2 million in regeneration in any given year.

Given these estimates, FinCom member Jeanne Borawski commented that she is “comfortable with what is sustainable.” Both the municipal government and the school department will use these numbers to build their recommended budgets. The Select Board will hold budget hearings in December, and the School Committee will do the same in January. The final budget will be approved at April Town Meeting.

FinCom voted to recommend to Town Meeting warrant article three, amending the capital plan. This amendment will add $405,000 to the plan in FY 2023 and $247,000 to the plan in FY 2024. FinCom voted 8-0 to recommend article four to Town Meeting as well. This article will add $291,000 from free cash and $8,000 from water and sewer reserves to the FY 2023 budget.

By a vote of 8-0, FinCom recommended article six to Town Meeting. This article seeks to create a new affordable housing trust fund, allowing more flexibility in the use of funds. This article came as a result of an instructional motion at Town Meeting last April. Article seven, the use of $2.2 million from free cash for the Killam Elementary School feasibility study, was also recommended to Town Meeting by a vote of 8-0.

Reauthorization of the Senior Tax Exemption, article nine, was recommended to Town Meeting by a vote of 8-0, as was article fourteen, the authorization to acquire a water assistance loan from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. FinCom also voted 8-0 to recommend borrowing of up to $1.0 million for the Maillet-Sommes-Morgan conservation project. Town Manager Fidel Maltez reminded FinCom that a $2.1 million grant had already been secured for the project and that there could be additional money in the form of a federal earmark for the project.

FinCom voted 7-1 to recommend article sixteen to Town Meeting. This article would authorize $750,000 to do design work for Haven Street improvements. FinCom member Emily Sisson asked if the completed designs were needed to act as a “gateway to grants.” Maltez explained that having this project “shovel ready” will allow the town to seek the grants needed to complete the project. FinCom member Marianne Downing was the sole dissenting vote. She expressed her concern that designs might have to be changed after they are completed due to unknown future development in the area. FinCom member Joseph Carnahan countered that most of the planned development in the area had already been built, approved, or, like the 25 Haven Street project, was currently before the Community Planning and Development Commission for approval.

Article eighteen would transfer $414,000 from free cash to the Smart Growth Stabilization fund. This funding was received as a result of the development in the Downtown Smart Growth District and is use-restricted to capital projects. Angstrom explained that the transfer would allow for easier accounting of the funds. She further explained that this article would have appeared on the warrant last April, but the funding had not yet been received. The Smart Growth Stabilization Fund currently has over $500,000 in it, and it can only be spent by a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting. FinCom voted 8-0 to recommend the article.

FinCom will next gather at the Financial Forum next Wednesday in the Reading Memorial High School library. FinCom adjourned at 10:10 pm.

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