EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 18, 2013

Under mayor's budget, average tax hike likely $100

By Brian Messenger

---- — METHUEN — The average single-family homeowner in the city would pay around $100 more in property taxes next year under Mayor Stephen Zanni’s $145.3 million budget proposal.

The mayor’s proposal represents a 5 percent or $6.5 million increase from the current budget. The proposal covers the fiscal year beginning July 1 and ending June 30, 2014.

“I think it’s a very fair budget,” Zanni told The Eagle-Tribune yesterday. “There’s no frills in it. No extras.”

The City Council held its first budget hearing last night at City Hall, spending an hour and 15 minutes reviewing roughly a dozen departmental budgets with the mayor and City Auditor Thomas Kelly.

The process will continue tonight at 6 p.m. when councilors examine budget proposals for the school, police, fire and public works departments. The council is expected to vote on the budget next Tuesday.

In an interview before last night’s hearing, Zanni said his budget proposal calls for no layoffs or program cuts. Included in the budget is $1.8 million in municipal employee raises, which the mayor negotiated and the City Council approved last year.

“I’m trying to keep this $100 or less on the tax increase,” said Zanni. “Except for the raises, pretty much the budget is level funded.”

During the current budget year, Zanni’s first as mayor, the average single-family homeowner in Methuen was forced to pay $163 more in property taxes. As a result, the average annual tax bill for single-family homeowners rose to $3,666.

The average commercial tax bill in Methuen is $9,326. Business owners on average paid a year-on-year tax increase of $365.

Zanni said the city will remain about $3 million below its tax levy limit under his proposal.

Councilors at last night’s hearing moved quickly through the departmental budgets. The most time — about 15 minutes — was dedicated to the Information Technology department, which in 2012 was the subject of a contentious privatization debate.

Unable to gain council approval for IT privatization last year, Zanni is now looking to spend roughly $25,000 on employee training so the IT department’s three employees can receive proper work certifications.

Councilors last night asked Zanni and IT Director Kingsley Lough about the training, and whether the department can function properly without filling a fourth position, which has remained vacant since February when former network administrator Bill Lasonde died in a car crash. Lough said the position, which comes with a minimum salary of $69,049, needs to be filled.

“We’re pretty stretched out,” said Kingsley. “We’re trying to learn the new stuff.”

Councilors also questioned a $7,286 raise for the city’s purchasing director. Kelly said the raise is the result of a combination cost-of-living increase and step increase.

“I need a full-time job here,” quipped City Councilor Michael Condon in response.