Foster approves budget at drive-up meeting

Foster approves budget at drive-up meeting

Cars line up at Foster’s 1950s style drive-thru Financial Town Meeting last Saturday while Town Moderator and Board of Canvas members sit behind hay bales while reading off the budget. (Photo courtesy of Mike Chippendale)

FOSTER – Town Moderator Robert Boyden sat atop a platform covered in hay bales in the town’s first-ever 1950s style drive-up Financial Town Meeting last Saturday.

Cars pulled in to the Foster Fairgrounds at 10 a.m., and voting residents received wristbands to stick out car windows when casting a vote.

Though temperatures were raised, tempers were not, and the FTM went off without a glitch taking less than 30 minutes from start to finish. In the end, taxpayers approved the $14.67 million budget without changes.

The 1.27 percent tax increase amounts brings the property tax rate to $23.77 per $1,000 of assessed value on real estate, and $32.70 per $1,000 of assessed value for personal property.

The current tax rate is $23.69 per $1,000 assessed value of real estate and $32.59 of $1,000 assessed value of tangible property.

The 2020-2021 motor vehicle tax levy includes a rate of $35 per $1,000 of assessed value, which includes the exemption amount provided by the state’s vehicle tax phase-out.

Town Council President Denise DiFranco explained that the budget was reduced significantly following the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It was a difficult task to create a budget that would allocate enough money to provide immediate services to town and minimize the immediate impact to the taxpayer,” DiFranco said.

Despite the efforts across all departments to make “significant cuts,” DiFranco said the 1.27 tax increase could not be avoided.

“When you are voting on this budget, keep in mind that an increase in the budget impacts the tax rate, a decrease impacts the services provided,” she said.

The Department of Education asked for a $134,874 increase in the budget for Foster Schools, and $1,460 for the regional school district. Isaac Paine Elementary School sought a 6 percent increase but lowered its budget to a 4 percent increase from last year.

The schools’ allocation of $8.9 million is 62 percent of Foster’s 2020-2021 budget.

The regional school FTM was canceled in March due to coronavirus and was approved by the council with state approval.

The state requested that the district reduce the budget by approximately $120,000, saving Foster $40,000, resulting in a 0.03 percent increase.

DiFranco said the budget the council considered in March is much different than the budget presented last Saturday. She and Councilor Cheryl Hawes thanked town employees for agreeing to a one-year pay freeze alongside municipal union workers.

DiFranco said the DPW, town clerk’s office, police, dispatch, and all department heads agreed to a one-year pay freeze, drawing applause from residents.

Waste removal service provider Rambone agreed to a freeze at the cost of 2020 rates as well.

“The council wants to thank all of them for all of the concessions,” DiFranco said.

DiFranco explained the $14.67 million included $216,261 in operating expenditures. It includes a $19,430 increase in general government expenditures related to an increase in medical and property liability insurance, technology expenses and the upcoming presidential and state election.

She said the $18,340 increase in the DPW budget is due to an increase in medical and dental insurance and the cost of waste removal.

She said despite the freeze in costs, she would be remiss not to remind Foster residents to be mindful of what is recycled and what is thrown in the trash.

Tax bills will go out soon, with quarterly installments due beginning July 15, then Oct. 15, Jan. 15, and April 15.