April 21, 2023 By Liz Klein, Hingham Select Board
How we got here
The Town entered the FY24 budget season with a significant deficit. This resulted from adding critical capacity to both municipal and school services. While these vital positions and resources were added during the public health emergency, many were services that had been needed prior to the pandemic. In addition, Hingham has experienced a decrease in New Growth and the cost of providing services has outpaced revenue growth allowed under Proposition 2 ½. The Town used one-time federal and local reserve funds in FY22 and FY23 to offset these deficits. As we move away from the pandemic and seek to bridge the funding gap permanently, the Town must either reduce services to balance the FY24 budget or raise recurring revenue through an override to maintain current operations.
Given this context, the Town is proposing a $7,890,467 operational override for the FY24 budget. To pass, the override will require approval at both Annual Town Meeting on April 24 th and on the ballot at the Annual Town Election on April 29 th.
The Town is at a critical crossroads in which we must decide to continue with the services that have proven essential over the last 2 years and continue moving forward OR to cut services and move backwards. In addition to keeping the current staffing and service levels, the override adds critical investments and is designed to fix structural deficits in the budget. For example, we are funding capital outlay to be in compliance with our Town Financial Policy. We have seen first-hand, at Foster School and North Fire Station, what the lack of capital investment and planned preventive maintenance means for our infrastructure. Another example is hiring 4 additional firefighters to address a long-standing staffing shortage and overtime situation which results in a savings greater than the cost of hiring the new personnel ($392,000+/year). The Town has followed the proven budget process we’ve used for years in which each department’s budget is scrutinized and all expenditures are analyzed. This budget cycle we have reviewed all revolving accounts and reserve funds publicly to increase transparency.
What does it mean for you
Hingham’s past success has been built on strategic thinking and planning. Our continued success is based on the strategic goals and initiatives outlined in the Master Plan, School Strategic Plan, and Climate Action Plan. The recommended budget, including the $7.9M override before Town meeting, is the budget necessary to execute these strategies and plans and will provide funding for Hingham Public Schools, senior services, and investments in mental health, roads, sidewalks, parks, playgrounds, fields, and our efforts to combat climate change. For the median assessed home value, this is a $751 annual increase, $63/mth. The FY24 average single family property tax bill with the override remains in the middle, at the #10 spot relative to our 20 benchmark towns.
Final words before Town Meeting
For the first time, the Town has created a sustainable 5-year budget based on an override, or investment of tax revenue to fill the deficit, coupled with a financial management plan which outlines the FY25-FY28 budget amounts. These total budget numbers are based on 3.5% growth rates. Town leadership has been working towards this goal of predictable growth rates for several years. Every member of the Select Board, School Committee, and Advisory Committee, as well as the Town Administrator and School Superintendent has committed to the Financial Management Plan, which has been documented and signed. The Financial Management Plan (sometimes referred to as the MOU) serves as a commitment to taxpayers that future growth of operating budgets will be limited and a future override will not be requested until at least FY28. The Town will aggressively be working on initiatives to reduce the likelihood of an override through economic development and non-tax revenue opportunities. The Select Board has been and will continue to be financial stewards for the Town. Being a financial steward doesn’t always mean choosing the least expensive option. It’s our responsibility to balance the services the community needs, maximizing every tax dollar to provide the most value and achieve our mutual goals.
Now is the time to come together, join in our shared values, invest in the future, and invest in this wonderful community.
Together, we will move Hingham forward.
Respectfully submitted by Liz Klein