Hadley town officials unveil $27M budget

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-15-2024 8:25 PM

HADLEY — A proposed $21.7 million operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2024 maintains all municipal and school programs and current staffing levels, according to a presentation by Hadley’s financial team last week.

“There’s no layoffs. There’s no decrease in services,” Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan told the Select Board and Finance Committee at a joint meeting on Feb. 7.

The preliminary fiscal year 2025 budget is up $947,277, or 4.6%, over the current year’s $20.75 million, with the more than two-thirds of that increase, or $681,813, related to current employee benefits, Other Post Employment Benefits, insurance and debt payments.

The remaining increases are largely associated with a directive from the Select Board and Finance Committee to focus on wage equity and working to make Hadley offer competitive market rates to its employees. The $126,234 increase in spending on public works and police, for instance, relates to wage increases in settled contracts.

“We continue to invest, we continue to retain our employees, but also attract new ones, as well,” Brennan said.

Public schools are the largest part of the budget, at $7.89 million, but that is less than a 2%, or a $145,921 increase, over this year’s $7.75 million in spending for Hopkins Academy and Hadley Elementary School.

The budget that will come to annual Town Meeting on May 2 will continue to be fine-tuned as the state budget and state aid figures are finalized.

Linda Sanderson, the town treasurer and financial manager, explained that the budget plan is based on $20.9 million expected in general fund revenues, an increase of $1.27 million over the $19.6 million in general fund revenues this year.

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The budget was developed following $22.26 million in requests from departments that were then cut $561,228 by Brennan.

Even with those cuts, the town is still facing an $802,178 deficit, with $750,000 from free cash and $55,000 from the stabilization account to cover

While trying to reduce use of free cash, also necessary, “It’s a tool we use to get us into the next year,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson said town officials are waiting on updated state aid and the potential opportunities for local fees, a proposal from Gov. Maura Healey that would allow cities and towns the option to raise excise taxes, lodging fees and meal taxes.

Select Board member Molly Keegan said that the preliminary budget plan includes no new positions that have been discussed by the board, such as an information technology director, instead retaining an outside vendor, or adding a dedicated planner or economic development director.

Even so, Sanderson said Hadley has made progress in recent years on professionalizing staff, observing that a land-use coordinator assists the Planning Board, Conservation Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, and a full-time health director is in place.