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The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

Select Board hears budget presentation, approves reduced speed limit during 12/12 meeting

Deepa Gautam
Selectboard members sit at a table at the Millenium Building.

Town manager Kristen Las presented two budget scenarios for FY25, and the board also voted in favor of reducing the speed limit on Griffin Road and parts of Boston Road to 25 mph during the Dec. 12 Select Board meeting. 

1.) Town Manager Budget Presentation Breakdown

In the midst of Westford’s current $6-8 million budget shortfall, Westford is projected to face significant cuts to town and school services. In her overview of the two budget scenarios, Las detailed current budget challenges, examples of potential service cuts, and the allocation of funds for both options.

These potential cuts come as a result of the town facing several budgetary challenges, and a $10.1 million total increase in expenses, according to Las. As described more specifically here and the Final Budget Task Force Report, these challenges include high inflation in conjunction with increasing contract costs, increasing special education costs, increasing healthcare expenses, and the costs of maintaining competitive salaries for town employees.

The first scenario presented by Las stays within the constraints of Proposition 2 ½, a state policy that does not allow the tax levy to increase beyond 2.5% each year. However, it also means that cuts and staff reductions town-wide would be necessary. The second option would include drastically fewer cuts and maintain current town service levels, but relies upon residents voting in favor of a Proposition 2 1/2 override, which would result in a permanent tax increase.

According to Las, for each million dollar override, a median single family home assessed at $756,000 would experience a $112.36 tax increase. Currently, there is an $8 million override request. For most families in Westford, this means tax increases could range anywhere from $663 to $1,461 per year  if the override passed, depending on their home value.

An image from the Town Manager’s slideshow depicting specific tax increases for families based on their home value for an $8 million override.

Scenario 1: Without an Override 

According to Las, a portion of the town’s increased expenses will be covered by revenue from FY24 to FY25, which is about $3.5 million. After mandatory costs such as general insurance and debt service, 78% of this revenue will go towards WPS (about $1.5 million), and 22% will go towards the net town operating budget (about $364,000).

However, according to Las, these allocations would not be sufficient to maintain current levels of town services.

Without an override, Las proposed the reduction of 2 police officers, 2 firefighters, 1 dispatcher, 1 Community Wellness Coordinator, 1 Sustainability Coordinator, 1 Heavy Equipment Coordinator, 0.9 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) part-time library workers, and 0.4 FTE DPW Business Manager. As detailed in this article on the 12/04 school committee meeting, there would be 70.2 FTE reductions within Westford Public Schools.

During the presentation, Las described the highlights of a budget without an override, calling the potential impacts “dire”.

Some examples of these impacts include:

  • Temporary closures at the Rogers Fire Station
  • A reduction in the Community Wellness Program
  • Delays in road maintenance and plowing
  • Reduced J.V. Fletcher Library operating hours from 55 to 50
  • Reduced initiatives to treat Westford’s water bodies and fields.
  • Projected staff reductions throughout WPS can result in larger class sizes and decreased class options.

Scenario 2: With an override 

If an $8 million override is approved at the March 25 town meeting and May 7th town elections, schools would be allocated an additional $4.6 million and the town departments would see an additional $1.3 million. This would reduce WPS staff cuts by around 43 FTE, and maintain town services, without any additional services or staff hires.

In addition to the override, Las mentioned that new revenue measures, such as MBTA zoning, may allow some relief from the FY25 budget, which is not expected to be better in coming years.

Following the presentation, Westford residents expressed their outlooks on the budget options, with some hoping to see more information for taxpayers.

“A couple of years of property taxes going up a lot higher than their meager COLA (cost of living adjustment) increases is going to put even more pressure on some of the people we already saw were having [financial] problems,” Westford resident Paul Fossbender said. “So I hope, as we go forward in this process, that we’ll spend a little bit more time looking at the total impact on the residents.”

In addition, Select Board chair Thomas Clay encouraged resident feedback, emphasizing that this presentation is only the beginning of many upcoming community discussions leading up to the finalized budget.

“Everything outlined in this budget is really just a starting point, and there will be many chances to scrutinize each individual piece of it as we walk through our discussions,” Clay said. “I would anticipate that the budget we end with will have some improvements, some changes, and some careful thoughts about priorities.”

2.) Reduced 25 mph Speed Limit Approved

The Select Board voted unanimously to reduce the speed limit on Griffin Road, and approved the motion regarding portions of Boston Road in a 4-1 vote. On Boston Road, the new speed limit will be enforced from Main Street to Crown Road.

This came after several residents voiced safety concerns with the current 30 mph limit. In addition, many also raised a spotlight on other issues found on the road that make it difficult for pedestrians to safely navigate it, such as telephone posts and shrubbery.

“We have a problem now, and we are at least two years away from construction starting on Boston Road,” Select Board member Andrea Peraner-Sweet said. “[…]When the time comes, if we can redesign and add sidewalks, islands, shrubberies, we can look at it again, but we have a problem [with the speed limit] that needs to be addressed now.”

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About the Contributor
Deepa Gautam, Editor-in-Chief
Hi! My name is Deepa and I am a junior Editor in Chief for the Ghostwriter! This is my third year on the paper and I joined because I love to read, write, and try new things. In my free time, I love watching movies, listening to music, trying new foods, and spending time with my family! :)

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