SHREWSBURY, Mass. — A weak economy, a loss of federal money and state aid to Shrewsbury schools, stagnant business growth and unfunded state mandates — these factors and more are challenging Shrewsbury's finances as the town forms its fiscal 2014 budget.
In May, town meeting representatives approved a 2013 budget of more than $97.6 million. Included in that budget was almost $50 million for the school department, which still faced an $850,000 gap.
During a financial workshop Tuesday, Selectman Henry Fitzgerald noted the schools lost the equivalent of 32 full-time positions as a result of that budget.
“My concern is try to restore much as can, especially in the school department,” he said. “It's not going to happen quickly.”
In addition to the schools, the police department also wants more personnel to expand its 55-member department with four new positions: one new clerical position, one new dispatcher, one new sergeant, and one new patrolman.
The fire department wants to make one clerical position full-time and add a captain's position, bring the department up to 39 members.
On the municipal side, Morgado said he prefers to keep costs down by not creating new positions. For example, the town's plumbing inspections are contracted out to four people. While there is a backlog of plumbing inspections, Morgado said contracting plumbing inspections is still preferable, because the town doesn't have to pay insurance or contribute to pensions.
Selectman Moira Miller said she is concerned about the rising costs of employee pensions and healthcare, which she said is the top threat to the town's fiscal health.
There are some notable bright spots in the budget outlook. The town has little debt, relatively speaking. Also, Shrewsbury had the 12th lowest average tax rate in 2012 out of 46 towns in Worcester County, far below communities such as Westborough, with an annual $7,790 rate, and Northborough at $6,114. In Shrewsbury, the average 2012 property tax bill was $4,139, an increase of more than $184 over the previous year.
Tuesday's meeting was a first step in a long trudge in the town's journey to form next year's budget. The 2013 town meeting will be held May 20, following town elections on May 7. The finance committee will issue its final budget recommendations in late April.