EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 27, 2013

Tax rate increase proposed in Salem

Selectmen wanted no increase; Manager's plan calls for 2.14 percent hike

By Doug Ireland

---- — SALEM — Only a year after laying off a dozen workers, Town Manager Keith Hickey said last night no jobs will be eliminated in his proposed $39.2 million budget for 2014.

But residents can expect a 2.14 percent tax rate increase if selectmen approve the plan, up from $36.8 million for 2013, Hickey said. The town portion of the tax rate would rise from $7.02 to $7.17 per $1,000. The total tax rate is $20.58.

Hickey outlined his budget plan for selectmen, including 11 warrant articles that would go before voters in March. They include spending $1.6 million to reconstruct two bridges and a culvert and $1.9 million for two Fire Department vehicles.

Although Hickey said no employees would lose their jobs, Selectman Stephen Campbell said personnel cuts should have been considered to meet selectmen’s goal of no increase in the tax rate.

Campbell said he wanted a list of five employees whose jobs could be eliminated. Hickey said he couldn’t afford to lose any positions.

“I stand by my budget,” Hickey said. “I don’t recommend any (personnel) cuts.”

An Ingram Senior Center custodian’s hours would be reduced from 40 to 35 hours a week, he said.

Selectman James Keller said he also wanted a zero percent tax rate increase and would work to achieve that goal.

When selectmen began their preliminary budget talks in June, they told Hickey they wanted no increase in the tax rate.

At that time, Hickey said the town portion of the tax rate could increase 8.4 percent if no cuts were made.

Since then, Hickey has come up with approximately $508,000 in cuts, including not spending $25,000 on Fourth of July festivities and $48,000 on mosquito control.

Hickey also proposed not spending $48,000 on the Cooperative Alliance for Regional Transportation bus service.

Selectmen will begin their review of the budget next week.

Also last night, selectmen voted, 3-2, against a request from SalemFest organizers and St. David’s Church to allow signs for the annual community festival to be placed in the town’s rights-of-way.

Keller, Michael Lyons and Campbell opposed the request while Chairman Everett McBride Jr. and Patrick Hargreaves were in favor.

But the board voted unanimously in favor of a motion by Hargreaves to waive the $10 fee per sign for nonprofit organizations to post signs on their own property.

The issue was debated for more than an hour as Betty Gay and other SalemFest organizers pleaded with selectmen to allow the signs for the event, scheduled for Sept 21-22.

“It might be effective to form a study committee to develop a solution,” Gay said.

Selectmen previously decided to prohibit signs from rights-of-way after another organization was granted permission and kept its signs up longer than it should have, Campbell said.

Gay said SalemFest had been allowed to post its signs for a decade, but selectmen said organizations would no longer be allowed to place signs in rights-of-ways.

Granting permission to one organization would mean they would be obligated to grant it to others, selectmen said.