In the first night of Kingston Town Meeting, voters passed a $38 million budget, a million dollars greater than the current budget, refused to lower the Community Preservation surtax, approved a million-dollar improvement to the transfer station and placed a $390,000 school budget override on the ballot.
The schools account for 59 percent of the budget, typical of local towns. Most of the increase came in fixed costs with minimum increases in town department budgets. The Finance Committee made a change in the way the town pays for fuel, removing gasoline and diesel expenses from departmental budgets and making it a single budget item. The million dollar increase will add $138 dollars to the average property tax bill.
To help offset the increase, Selectmen and the Finance Committee recommended decreasing the Community Preservation Act surtax from 3 to 1 percent. When the town adopted the act in 2006, the state contributed a 100% match. That match has dropped as other towns have adopted the act. The Finance Committee projected a savings of $66 for the average bill. Taxpayers participating in the Meeting called the $66 insignificant, one woman saying she could forgo 11 lattes in a year to pay for the CPA surtax. The Community Preservation Committee uses the money to buy open space, preserve historic structures, build recreational facilities and fund affordable housing.
Town Meeting approved a $975,000 plan to reconfigure the transfer station. The project will expand the leaching capacity of the adjacent wastewater treatment plant by installing a new field under the asphalt, reduce the wait time to move through the station and improve recycling. Highway Superintendent Paul Basler said the increased recycling will offset the increase in SEMASS fees from $35 to $71 per ton of trash coming up in two years. Treasurer John LaBrache said the increased meals tax and new revenue from the wind turbine and solar array on the old landfill will pay for the project.
The first night attracted an unusually large number of voters in support of the school override. When one 18 year old man stood to speak, Moderator Janet Wallace praised him for his participation and the residents at the meeting applauded.
The schools have experienced an increase in the number of special need students. Under state law, the town must accommodate them at its own expense. The School Committee halfed the new costs by not replacing retiring teachers and making other cuts in the regular school day. Several voters called for a change in the state law.
Andy Garland, 24, graduated from the Kingston and Silver Lake schools where he discovered his talent for music. He now works as a musician. The schools’ music program would receive major cuts if the override fails.
“I hate dealing in politics and I hate crunching numbers and I hate going to meetings,” Garland told the Meeting. “But, I promise you, if we pass this ballot and get through this year, I will work with all of you to make the systemic change. I will join you and make my life very unpleasant to make that happen.”