Murray’s picture of Cumberland’s fiscal health needs less ‘guesswork’

Murray’s picture of Cumberland’s fiscal health needs less ‘guesswork’

Would you pay the bill without seeing the receipt? The town wants taxpayers to do just that.

Last week’s Valley Breeze article, “Unexpectedly Modest Tax Increase in Cumberland” attempts to paint a picture by the current town administration that a more modest levy increase from the earlier projected 4 percent increase (adopted with the FY18 budget passage) is recommended due to the miraculously “better than projected financial returns” and a “prudent fiscal approach.” But a more careful look at what the mayor alleges as “the most modest increase in taxes that I could possibly get” suggests what I would call “levymandering.” Levymander – to alter the approach to budget projections and amendments to promote favorable financial picture for town or city; typically implemented during an election year. Example: The mayor’s levymandering guesswork resulted in a lower-than-projected tax increase during the 2018 election year.

Mayor Murray alleges that Cumberland’s unsynchronized system causes “guesswork” that led to his overestimating the amount needed in taxes. I strongly disagree with this approach. Why would you ever want the town “guessing” on your tax bill? The formulaic approach of the levy worksheet requires a current and accurate account of projected revenue and expenditures.

The tax levy is the government equivalent of our “bill of services,” while the budget is considered as “the receipt.” The current administration has yet to present a budget amendment reflecting the extra revenue and expense reductions noted in the article. The administration wants to send you the bill and mandates for you to “trust” that they will eventually send you the receipt. Would you ever pay a bill without seeing the receipt?

The existing legislation guiding the tax levy has stood the test of time and is partly responsible for the town’s positive financial standing. The legislation is designed to remove political gamesmanship or levymandering while also ensuring proper scrutiny by the Town Council before our tax bills are mailed. Our household equivalent to Mayor Murray’s tax levy would be like using 25 percent of our savings in the bank, plus your kids’ birthday money, and not paying the credit card balance, just to make ends meet for the year.

The mayor wants to send a bill that includes a collections rate which is less than the five-year average and significantly less than the last three years. This is a classic case of levymandering – altering budget projections to promote a more favorable town financial picture during an election year.

Our townspeople deserve better.

Jeff Mutter

Mutter is a former Town Council President and School Committee Chair.