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The Public Purse: News from Canton’s Board of Finance

Editor's Note: Please note that the Board of Finance Budget Public Hearing has been rescheduled and will now take place April 25.

By Katie Kenney

Board of Finance Chair

The Canton Board of Finance works to balance maintaining town services, a strong school system, upkeep of our nearly $120 million investment in the town’s infrastructure, and the town’s AAA bond rating, against the impact of paying for all of these on the taxes imposed on residents and businesses. 

This year, two unusual circumstances made it especially challenging to balance town services with reducing the burden on Canton taxpayers.

First, the town faces some unavoidable capital expenses, including modular classrooms for Cherry Brook School (needed before an unusually large kindergarten class enters in the fall of 2025) and environmental cleanup of PFAS contamination.  In the initial administrative budget presented to the Board of Selectmen, these two items contributed to a 93% increase in the capital improvement budget that would have led to an increase of over 14% in costs for the Fiscal Year 2024-25 budget.

Just as most people buying a house will take out a mortgage rather than pay the full amount with cash, it makes sense for some town infrastructure expenditures to be done through bonding. The Boards of Selectmen, Finance, and Education are working closely to develop a bonding proposal that would include modular classrooms for Cherry Brook School, resurfacing of the town’s tennis and basketball courts at Mills Pond Park, major repairs to Canton Intermediate School, and some road repavement. Residents would vote on the bond package in the November election.  With these items taken out of the operating budget, the increase in expenditure in the capital improvement budget was brought down to only 2.88%. 

Second, as Board of Finance member Sarah Faulkner explained in the first Public Purse column a few weeks ago, the town carried out its revaluation of all taxable property last year, as required under state law.  Due to dramatic and uneven increases in property values driven by the housing shortage and other market factors, the tax burden in Canton shifted toward residential properties.  Residential real estate increased by 47%, compared to 21% and 5.58% for commercial and personal property, respectively, while motor vehicles decreased in value 5.55%. Overall, the revaluation would result in a lowered mil rate, but residential taxes would increase dramatically due to this shift in valuation. Even if it were possible for the town and schools to operate with no increase in expenditures, the tax increase on the median house due to revaluation alone would be $562.

In the past, the Town has implemented the entire change in home assessments in the budget year after the revaluation took place.  This year, because the revaluation would represent such an enormous increase, leading to considerable hardship for many residents, the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen recommend making use of a state statute that allows towns to phase in their revaluations.  Both Boards settled on a four-year phase-in period. For a resident owning a house of the median assessed value, phasing in revaluation would result in a tax savings in the 2024-25 year of $350, and cumulative savings over the four years of the phase-in of $646.

Canton residents will have the opportunity to vote on whether to adopt the revaluation phase-in plan at a Town Meeting on Thursday, April 18 at 7:00 p.m. at the Canton Community Center.  If you’re reading this article online before that time, we encourage you to participate in that meeting.

In addition to these somewhat unusual circumstances, the Boards of Selectmen, Finance, and Education have spent the past few months carrying out our annual task of reviewing and revising the annual operating budgets for the town’s departments and schools. 

The proposed Board of Selectmen operating budget for Fiscal Year 2024-25 is $12,504,271, which represents a 5.92% increase over last year.  The major drivers of the increase for the town are Fire and Emergency Services, Wages & Benefits, and Public Works/General Highway (due to a proposed new hire).  In addition, the town plans to increase the size of the police force by one officer who would start halfway through this fiscal year. The full cost of this additional officer would not be felt until the 2025-26 budget.

The proposed Board of Education operating budget is $33,447,742, which represents a 5.36% increase over last year.  The major drivers of the increase for the schools are Special Education, Health & Benefits, and Contractual Salaries. 

This year, the Board of Finance has worked hard to encourage public participation in the budget process by making the calendar of all budget-relating meetings widely available through the Valley Press, the Town Website, and Town email blasts and by encouraging residents to attend and make their views known. 

At the Budget Public Hearing on Tuesday, April 25 at 6:00 p.m. in the Canton Community Center, residents will have their final opportunity to speak directly to the Board of Finance about this year’s budget before the final numbers are set that will go to the Budget Referendum on May 7.  Please attend and share your interests and concerns.


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