SPENCER — Spencer residents will not see a tax rate increase or garbage fee hike next year, town aldermen agreed Tuesday night.
Instead, aldermen will dip into the town’s reserve fund for the $28,000 needed to balance the 2013-2014 budget and help cover a one-time expense of $50,000 for a strategic study of the town’s buildings and parks.
“The facilities needs study pays for itself,” Mayor Pro Tem Jim Gobbel said.
The study, which will detail the town’s plan for replacing all types of property from Town Hall to playground equipment over decades, will help Spencer win grants and no-interest loans, aldermen said.
“Fifty thousand dollars is lots of money, but go after one grant, whether it’s a full grant or a matching grant, and you can recover that in just one grant,” Mayor Jody Everhart said.
The study also will give the town direction, he said.
Alderman Jeff Morris said he has opposed the study until this year, when the town won a $200,000 state grant to buy Spencer Woods.
With the 42-acre forest plus a long-term parks strategy in place, Spencer stands a good chance to pull down funding for capital projects, Morris said.
“Lots of good things could come out of that,” he said.
With grants, the town can accomplish twice as much with half the money, he said.
Alderman David Smith warned that grants are not a guarantee and urged his fellow board members to be upfront with town residents, even though it’s an election year.
“Who says we are going to get the grant when we apply for it?” Smith said.
Larry Smith, the town manager, clarified that the facilities needs study would be paid for with taxpayer dollars but then could help the town win grants.
To come up with the extra $28,000 needed to fund the $50,000 study, aldermen considered increasing the property tax rate from 62 to 64 cents per $100 valuation or hiking the garbage fee from $15 to $17 a month for residents and $25 to $27 a month for businesses.
They chose to dip into the fund balance, which is allowed because it’s a one-time expense and will help with future budgeting, Larry Smith said.
Spencer struggles with revenue because the town has a largely residential tax base, and half of the property in the downtown area is owned by state or local government and can’t be taxed, Smith said.
The town is working to build a commercial tax base with help from the ongoing Small Town Main Street program and other measures.
The town’s last facilities needs study in 1955 resulted in the water treatment plant, which served the town for more than five decades, Alderman Scott Benfield said.
“That’s an example of good planning,” Benfield said. “And that’s what we need to do now. [Town Hall] isn’t going to stand forever. It needs a roof, and it’s a maintenance nightmare.”
Aldermen will hold a public hearing on the budget June 11.