WESTFIELD — Westfield residents should expect to see an average municipal tax increase of about $54 this year, town officials said Tuesday.
The budget totals $54,948,209 which is up over $2.25 million from last year’s $52,696,210.
“The town performed well in 2022, in large part due to reserves, healthy tax collections, and strategic budget decisions made to position the town for success for the long term. Importantly, in this challenging environment, we reaffirmed our AAA credit rating, conducted a remarkably successful bond sale, and generated just under $3.7 million in surplus to end 2022 with a $9.4-million surplus balance,” Mayor Shelley Brindle said, adding that the increase in this year’s collections can largely be attributed to “residual challenges presented by the pandemic and an increase in statutory and non-discretionary expenditures.”
The town’s mandatory appropriations (which represent costs associated with pensions, health insurance, Social Security, utilities and sewers) went up by about $1.2 million for 2023, Town Administrator James Gildea said.
Other notable increases include a 3.1-percent hike (about $550,000) in salaries and wages and various non-discretionary costs) related to departmental operations.
“Most of the other municipalities in the state are facing the same challenges,” Mr. Gildea said.
In addition to the increase in state-mandated expenses, Mr. Gildea continued, parking and court revenues — two major income generators for the town — are still struggling to rebound to their pre-pandemic levels.
“When Covid hit, everything changed,” Mr. Gildea said. “[These revenue streams] both dropped off dramatically. They have been inching back, but we are still bringing in about $600,000 less [than we were]. That’s a hard thing to make up for in any budget.”
Mr. Gildea also updated residents on the town’s plan for its second round of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding, a federal aid program designed to help local governing bodies address lingering challenges related to the pandemic. This year, Mr. Gildea said, the town intends to utilize its anticipated $1,555,066 payout to “offset revenue losses and fund Covid recovery.” According to the 2023 budget presentation (which can be viewed in its entirety on the town’s website), Westfield also intends to use the funding to support upgrades to town facilities, the police dispatch system and other capital projects.
This year’s $3.86-million capital budget, Mr. Gildea said, will be used to support “significant road-paving and drainage upgrades” various intersection and sidewalk upgrades, and improvements to the fields at Houlihan/Sid Fay Fields.
Roughly six miles of local roads are slated to be repaved at the town’s expense in 2023, Mr. Gildea said, while another 15 miles are expected to be addressed by utilities like Elizabethtown Gas.
“We do expect [to receive] close to $800,000 in grants to offset these costs,” Mr. Gildea said, adding that the town has attempted to keep its capital budget fairly consistent over the course of the past several years in order to better balance out its debt service.
Councilman Mark LoGrippo said this year’s level of debt service will need to be carefully monitored given the town’s recent decision to move ahead with the One Westfield Place redevelopment project.
“When we talk about the $57 million for One Westfield Place, that has ballooned our municipal debt,” said Mr. LoGrippo, who voted against the project’s final adoption earlier this month. “I know we’re going to try to offset that with PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) funding, but we need to know what this means.”
Mr. Gildea explained that while the town has authorized the issuance of a series of Redevelopment Area Bonds to fund public improvements connected to the project, it will be at least another four years before any type of debt service comes due.
“The debt is not issued until the revenue is guaranteed to cover it, and I think that’s a really important distinction,” Mayor Brindle said.
“This is not a simple money-in, money-out analysis,” Councilman Mark Parmelee said in regards to the budget. “It’s a complex puzzle with a variety of statutory and legal restrictions.”
Councilman LoGrippo voted against the budget as presented. Mayor Brindle, Councilman Parmelee and Council members David Contract, Emily Root, Mike Dardia, Dawn Mackey and Scott Katz voted in favor of its adoption. Councilwoman Linda Habgood was absent from Tuesday night’s proceedings.
The Westfield Town Council will hold a public hearing and final vote on the 2023 municipal budget on Tuesday, April 25.