Two years after a 0.75 percent meals tax was approved at town meeting to help pay for roads and to help with post-employment benefits (OPEB) for the town’s retirees, the selectmen are wondering if revenue from the tax can be used for other things.
In Fiscal Year 2012, the tax brought in $667,000 during the partial year it was in effect. The next year, just under $819,000 was collected. Since then the passing of the tax, $700,000 has gone towards OPEB and $175,000 went into roads. An additional $610,000 is currently sitting in free cash funds.
“We weren't sure how these revenues were going to pan out and we didn’t want to overcommit,” Finance Director Randy Scollins said.
This fiscal year, the meals tax is expected to bring in 863,000 with $500,000 committed to OPEB and $295,000 for roads.
With extra funding from the tax sitting in free cash, some selectmen are wondering if the unused money can be used for capital projects.
“Does anyone have the flavor of putting that towards Town Hall because that’s what I had in mind,” Selectmen Chairman Mark Sullivan said.
Any use of the money other than roads and OPEB would be for a one time use such as to help pay for a new town hall and will not be used for the operating budget.
“We need to start using that extra money. I think at this point we could take this money and put it towards this town hall project. It shows that we’re compelled to get this done and we’re not putting the burden on the tax payers,” Sullivan said.
Overall the selectmen were hesitant to approve the money for other uses.
“I was against the meals tax but I came to grips with it when we had a mechanism to handle this gorilla. It’s so easy to deviate and I wouldn’t suggest it. We’re on a good path, we’re making progress,” Selectman John Grey said.
Selectwoman Ginny Coppola said she is hesitant to use the money for anything other than roads and OPEB, but may look at the option in the future.
“I don’t like the idea of using it for other than roads and OPEB but down the road if we have to use it out of necessity I can consider it,” Coppola said.
Asked which option would save the town more money, Scollins said the way to go would be OPEB funding.
“We would get a bigger bang over the long term from OPEB assuming the markets don’t crash,” Scollins said.
When asked how long it would take to fund the town’s OPEB balance, Scollins said it will take the full 30-year schedule at the current pace.