Aquinnah voters took 16 minutes to fill a gaping hole in the 2014 fiscal year budget and clear the way to send out third- and fourth-quarter tax bills without resorting to any budget cuts, one of the options on the table at a special town meeting on January 7.
By a vote of 44 to 4, voters last Wednesday agreed to transfer $59,474 from the town stabilization fund to cover a budget shortfall discovered last month that had left the town at risk of being unable to pay its bills by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2015.
Voters went into the town meeting expecting to be asked to make up a $101,564 deficit. However, prior to the meeting, the town accountant received word from the state Department of Revenue (DOR) that it had revised its calculations and the hole was not as deep as first thought.
A motion to reduce the budget number from $101,564 to $59,474 passed easily. Voters were then faced with the choice of transferring the entire amount from the stabilization fund, enacting a series of department budget cuts, or combining cuts and a transfer to cover the entire shortfall. Voters decided to dip into the stabilization fund.
In an executive summary that accompanied the special town meeting warrant, Jim Newman, chairman of the board of selectmen, said the shortfall “will put the town in a position where it won’t be able to cover all its bills by the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2015). When this was reported to the state Department of Revenue as part of setting a tax rate for the rest of the fiscal year, they instructed the town to not send out its third-quarter tax bills until the matter had been resolved.”
“We are happy that we resolved the deficit issue and that we got a very good turnout from the residents of Aquinnah,” town administrator Adam Wilson told The Times Thursday morning. “We were able to quickly and satisfactorily get the necessary funds so that the DOR can approve that we are under the levy limit and allow us to send out our third- and fourth-quarter tax bills.”
Aquinnah voters do not have a good track record for turning out for special town meetings. The fact that a total of 48 voters — a quorum was 36 — made their way to town hall on one of the most frigid nights of the year had much to do with a full-court press by town officials.
Mr. Wilson said he worked the phones, social media, and email to wring commitments from voters to attend the special town meeting. “I made a real personal effort to reach out to the community and get confirmation as to whether or not people were going to come to the meeting,” he said.
“I knew I had 40 people who had told me through emails or phone calls that they were coming, so that was a good thing because it was an important issue and we did not want to delay any longer,” he said.
Mr. Wilson added, “It was a bit nippy. Thank goodness the boiler was working in the old town hall.”
The financial problems came to light as the town worked with the DOR to compile its tax recapitulation statement, a requirement of all Massachusetts towns. That revealed tax payments to the town were coming in at less than the amount projected for the fiscal year 2015 budget.