HOPKINTON — The town’s annual financial meeting elicited few views and only one comment — a woman asking for cuts that would prevent any tax increases — leaving city council members with virtually no contribution to work with as they are looking to finalize a budget proposal for the 2022-23 financial year.
Tuesday evening’s annual meeting was held in a hybrid format, with residents able to attend both in person at Hopkinton Town Hall or via computer via Zoom. It attracted only a limited turnout – 3 residents attended online but chose not to speak – with Diamond Hill Road resident Lori Ultsch the only one to get up and speak.
Ultsch questioned some spending, including big increases to the proposed police budget, and expressed frustration that taxes were going up at all in a year when residents are facing increased spending on nearly every front.
“As a taxpayer, I hate to see my taxes keep going up. Residents are seeing higher costs, higher gas prices, and electricity prices are going up. As residents, we’re really dealing with this said Ultsch.
“We need more economic development in this city, and that’s what it boils down to,” she added.
The budget proposed before City Council calls for a combined general government, education and capital spending plan of $28.12 million that includes $448,855 in additional spending in the current fiscal year, without count Hopkinton’s contribution to the Chariho Regional School District.
In general government, police spending represents one of the largest year-over-year increases, with the proposed budget increasing by $108,925 in the current fiscal year. Overall, the proposed budget represents $256,745 in new expenditures, not including capital projects.
Council Chairman Stephen Moffitt Jr. said the increase was largely the result of contractual obligations related to salaries and benefits, which the city was required to pay in the current fiscal year, even if the city had not approved a budget in the 2021 referendum, which led to a zero increase in non-education funding.
Under the current proposal, general government expenditure would increase by 3.7% overall. In addition to contract obligations and energy costs that account for much of the increase, city officials said the budget also includes $159,500 to fund a full reassessment as required by the state at least once. every nine years.
At the current city tax rate of $18.53, an average home with an estimated value of $300,000 would pay $5,559.
“With the change in the ’22-’23 budget, that would result in a total tax bill of $5,571 for the average resident, an increase of $12,” Moffitt said.
City Councilman Scott Bill Hirst, who in recent months has been critical of the school board and administrators in the district he collectively calls “the Chariho Establishment,” criticized any increases in school spending and spoke out against the plans of the district, stating that he wants the district to conduct an external management study that would include a line-by-line review of all district expenditures to improve efficiency and find savings.
Hirst questioned the school committee’s motives, which he did at every meeting in 2022 involving budget discussions, and claimed they would never consider an external management study because “there would be no profit for them”. He also questioned the complacency of district residents, who he said did not hold school officials accountable.
“If you’re not prepared to hold Chariho accountable for his finances, which a lot of people aren’t doing, then it really has no relation to the rest of the city,” Hirst said.
With the annual meeting now over, the board has until Monday to make additional changes before the budget is announced and sent to a referendum. Residents will have the chance to take part in a one-day referendum on the budget on June 14 at Hopkinton Town Hall, 1 Townhouse Road, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
For more information, including a copy of the proposed budget, visit the city’s website at hopkintonri.org.