Wastewater Drives 6.65 Percent Harwich Budget Increase

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Municipal Finance

Budget and finance.

HARWICH – Town Administrator Joseph Powers and Finance Director Carol Coppola have presented a $79,075,393 fiscal 2023 budget to selectmen, a 6.65 percent increase over the current year's spending.

A request for $2,357,019 in the wastewater enterprise fund is responsible for a major portion of the budget increase.

“The 2023 proposed budget is designed to sustain the town’s sound finances while addressing the public service needs of the community in a fiscally responsible manner,” Carol Coppola wrote in a memo to selectmen. “The 2023 proposed budget, as presented, is balanced.”

The wastewater enterprise fund budget is increasing to include operation and maintenance costs as called for within the intermunicipal agreement with the town of Chatham as well as anticipated internal operations costs, according to the budget document. Beginning with FY23, all wastewater-related debt will be charged to the enterprise fund. Until the fund has collected sufficient funding sources to support the debt, the general fund will continue to support debt repayments. Coppola said there is $1.8 million in existing wastewater debt.

The wastewater enterprise fund budget in FY22 was $515,331. In FY23, the enterprise fund will begin collecting user fee revenues, but the estimated revenue is deemed inconsequential and cannot support the operations, thus funding sources such as retained earnings and free cash will be necessary to balance the wastewater enterprise budget.

The free cash balance is $3,076,202, with $2.3 million of that amount directed to the $3.7 million FY23 capital plan. There is $250,000 in the retained earnings account.

In all, the FY23 budget seeks $4,932,776 more than the current budget. Coppola predicted the budget will increase the tax rate from $8.11 to $8.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Under the proposed spending plan, the general budget, exclusive of enterprise funds, would go up by $3,099,501, a 4.47 percent increase. Municipal operations would increase by $451,949; education costs would increase by $1,222,955; debt on current and anticipated long-term borrowing would increase by $765,858; and employee sponsored benefits would increase by $599,876.  

“The proposed budget does not include any cost of living increases for any collective bargaining units, or any positions currently established by the town,” according to the budget statement. “If the board of selectmen choose to fund and support negotiated and other standard wage increases, this will likely require further budget reductions.”

The education increases are being driven by higher numbers of Harwich students attending Cape Cod Regional Technical High School. The new technical high school is drawing 20 more Harwich students, increasing the number from 51 to 71 students. The technical school's FY23 assessment is $2,079,314, an increase of $543,005, or 35.34 percent.

The Monomoy Regional School District FY23 assessment for Harwich is $28,040,998, an increase of $679,950, or 2.49 percent. Selectman Mary Anderson on Monday night called on MRSD to sharpen its pencil and reduce that request.

The town budget does not reflect the proposal to change the assessment for the elementary schools, which calls for Chatham and Harwich to pay for costs associated with the schools. Articles to authorize the change are expected to be placed in each town’s annual town meeting warrants in May. Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskil said he is doubtful the change in the regional school district agreement will be implemented in time for inclusion in the FY23 budget. The change would reduce Harwich’s contribution to the MRSD budget by more than $600,000.

New positions are also proposed in the budget, including a director of cultural affairs, a nutrition program specialist for the council on aging, and a full-time housing advocate. A part-time health inspector position would also be increased to full time. The positions are proposed to be funded through the existing tax levy.

The public safety budget for police, fire, ambulance and emergency response seeks a $375,315 increase, or 3.90 percent. Restoration of overtime to support community engagement and ongoing union contracts account for $137,645 of the increase.

In FY22, police cruisers were removed from the budget to comply with budget directives. Three cruisers are proposed in the proposed budget as necessities for the safe operation of public safety.

There is also a $126,939 increase sought for the technology department and Channel 18 largely to support additional contract services necessary to enhance and upgrade infrastructure and provide ongoing support for all departments in town.

“A 6.65 percent increase isn’t going to work for me,” MacAskill said. “The (municipal) operating budget is up only 1.7 percent.” Town departments are taking a hit again while the schools come up with the same numbers every year, he said. “They are operating in a vacuum over there and it’s got to stop.”

The selectmen forwarded the budget to the finance committee for review. Budget review will continue at the board's weekly meetings as the town heads toward the May 2 annual town meeting.