The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 17, 2008

Carlisle eyes economic pinch

Town officials meeting on Tuesday discussed two ways the economic downturn will affect municipal affairs: falling home prices will trigger a tax rate hike and town departments are being asked to prepare for possible cuts in state aid.

Tax rate changes

Prices of certain segments of the housing market have drifted lower since the last full real estate valuation in 2006. Town Assessor Melissa Stamp announced that because assessed valuations differ from market prices by as much as 10%, Carlisle will need to conduct an interim real estate valuation, a year ahead of the full revaluation scheduled every three years. Town Treasurer Larry Barton pointed out that because the tax base is shrinking slightly, the FY09 tax rate must be increased, in order to raise the same amount of funds for the town budget. Town Meeting approved the size of the budget in May.

If all home values dropped consistently, there would be no net change in residents’ tax bills. On the other hand, if some assessments drop proportionally more than others, the relative tax burden may change. Further details of the revaluation are expected after the Board of Assessors meets next week.

“Isn’t this a bad time to adjust values?” asked Chair of the Selectmen Doug Stevenson, noting the recent rapid fluctuation in the stock market and banking industry. While there was general agreement, Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie explained that it was an unavoidable legal requirement. She noted that next year’s full revaluation will provide an opportunity to revisit the issue.

Uncertainties in state aid

Massachusetts has seen a sharp drop in revenues even before voters are given the chance to eliminate state income taxes via Question 1 on the November ballot. Carlisle officials are preparing to face possible cuts in state aid that may result.

Barton noted that certain town expenses such as debt service, county retirement payments and the assessment for the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School could not be easily reduced. However, for most other expenses, he was advising the Carlisle School and town departments to prepare for cuts to be made in line with their proportion of the total town budget. In this case, he said that since the Carlisle Public School comprises about 60% of the town budget, it would be asked to absorb 60% of any cut in state aid to Carlisle. School Business Manager Heidi Zimmerman asked when the town would know if cuts were likely. Barton thought it might not be known until as late as the spring and said the school and town departments may want to delay a certain amount of spending “to be safe.” Finance Committee representative Jerry Lerman said that his committee was planning to meet with departments to help them look for ways to trim costs.

On a positive note, Barton said the town’s Free Cash level of $993,000 had recently been certified by the state. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito