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Hopedale - Local Town Pages

Possible $500k Prop 2 ½ override an option to balance FY25 budget

Town officials consider options as 
health care premiums soar and BVT costs remain undisclosed, cost could 
be $209 per resident
By Theresa Knapp 
In a short presentation to the Hopedale Select Board on Jan. 22, Town Administrator Mitch Ruscitti shared the town’s “fiscal reality” which he attributed to “structural issues that contribute to the town’s fiscal problems.”
“I wanted to get this information out there early so it’s not a surprise to anyone,” said Ruscitti. The information included a possible $500,000 Proposition 2 ½ override to balance the town’s FY25 budget. 
Last year, Hopedale residents approved a $1.35 million Proposition 2 ½ override to balance the FY24 budget. 
Select Board Chair Glenda Hazard said at the beginning of the override discussion, “We’re not saying we want that, we’re looking for alternatives for that.” 
Ruscitti detailed the town’s finances by saying, “We do want to bring up the possibility that, the budget being as tight as it is, could require additional funds to maintain level services. My job to the Select Board is to provide recommendations but also provide the public with options and run different scenarios because, at the end of the day, it is their decision.”
“Our projection as of right now, and some of these things will fluctuate, they are going to change because there are variables that we don’t have clarification on and are beyond our control, our projected revenue including our levy and additional state aid and [inaudible] revenue for FY25, as of this moment is $30,129,679.”
Ruscitti said he has asked town departments to submit budgets “with a projected 3% increase across the board which I feel is fair, a lot of that comes from contractual obligations with employees.”
He said there are some town department budgets that will be “substantially lower than they were in FY23 and 24…we’re looking to make cuts where we can.” 
“If we were to take everything across the board, including the schools and BVT, [sic] raised just that 3%, our estimated expenditure for FY25 would be $29,659,466.” town approximately $400,000 as a buffer. He noted there are expected costs the town cannot control such as an undetermined (but likely 12%) increase in the town’s health care premium which he said is “one of the main driving cost factors that puts us over our revenue base.”
Ruscitti said, “So, if that number were to witness a modest increase, it puts us right at our expenditure limit. These numbers that we’ve used to budget also include the assumption that the BVT budget will increase by 3% or less, but I will note, for the members of the public that are here, that between FY23 and 24 the BVT budget increased by 28%.” 
“If things break out in our favor, we’re looking at an override somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000…Right now, if we were to pass a half million override, the increase on the average resident would be $209, it could change.” 
Hazard said, “I know that’s upsetting to people and I just wanted to make it clear that we’re working on solutions and that is not our plan to put forward an override.” 
Select Board member Scott Savage said he doubted BVT would keep its increase to three percent or less, adding, “This is quite upsetting to me especially considering, regardless of how much I’ve been trying to push on moving faster and more aggressively with this BVT thing, that we didn’t do it as a board, we didn’t move quick enough.” 
Ruscitti responded regarding BVT saying, “The number is relatively small considering some of the other structural issues we have. For example, the projected 10-12% increase that we’ve been told we will have with our premium share this year for benefits, structurally is a much larger number.” 
Hazard said the town’s conversation with BVT is continuing “and I think that the budget reaated part of it is still something we can achieve in this budget process.” 
Select Board member Bernie Stock noted the budget “is a moving target when you start in January. I’d be more concerned with the numbers as we get closer to the end of February…Discussion is healthy, keep it on the table.”