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Ahead of town meeting, Great Barrington begins work on fiscal year 2024 budget

Great Barrington, Massachusetts, at the intersection of Main Street and Railroad Street.
Great Barrington, Massachusetts, at the intersection of Main Street and Railroad Street.

The town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts began a series of budget presentations for the coming fiscal year this week.

Town Manager Mark Pruhenski says Great Barrington projects a budget of over $40 million for fiscal year 2024. That includes the use of $4 million in free cash to reduce the tax levy.

“This year's town operating budget is $14,738,633," said Pruhenski. "That's up 6.1% over last year. And our school assessment is estimated to be up about 5.2% at $19,939,489, and our wastewater budget is coming in at $2,831,982, up by 4.0% this year.”

He outlined the spending plan Tuesday night. Great Barrington has around $10.3 million in free cash available.

Some of the operating budget highlights include a $35,000 appropriation to create an assistant accountant position that used to be a part-time job and an increase to the police department budget of $112,000 or 6%. Spending on the fire department is up $115,000 or 16% with the increase of wages for existent firefighters as well as the addition of a new firefighter to the roster.

Special articles add another $1.6 million to the town’s expenses. That category includes expenditures like vocational tuition, cemetery study and maintenance, and Other Post-Employment Benefits.

“The town has an $820,000 account," explained Pruhenski. "It's $820,000 in our pension reserve trust fund that was established in the 1980s. We still have that today. And we're proposing to repurpose that fund, and add this additional amount of $176,500 and invest $1 million in our OPEB Trust Fund this year after that's established.”

Another line item concerns the emergency medical services provided to Great Barrington by Southern Berkshire Ambulance.

“They're requesting assistance from all member towns, and our portion of that request is $151,294," said Pruhenski. "Next on the list is who's Housatonic Water Works relief. And you can see that we've added $150,000, an additional $150,000 this year, and I think it's safe to say that everyone in this room at this table can agree that more relief funding will likely be needed this coming summer.”

Residents of Housatonic, a village in Great Barrington, have seen long-standing water quality issues continue to degrade in recent years.

$175,000 would go to the town’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

“This is just another investment to address a critical need here in our town, and this funding would help the Affordable Housing Trust Fund committee invest some money in local projects,” said Pruhenski.

Updating the Great Barrington website is also included.

“This is a recent priority item of this level," said the town manager. "So, we added this last minute, but we do have an up-to-date estimate on what that would cost and that's coming in at $30,600. And then the last one here, legal fees, cannabis HCA renewals. We anticipate renewing all of our host community agreements, either at the tail end of this fiscal year or into next fiscal year. And we're not asking taxpayers to fund this. We're actually looking for $15,000 in community impact funding to pay for that expense.”

The final chunk of the $40 million plan is around $870,000 in non-borrowing capital items and just under $300,000 in assessments. The total sum is just over $3 million more than the fiscal year 2023 budget.

As for capital requests, Great Barrington is projecting around $8.8 million in spending.

“Lots of street, sidewalk, and walking path upgrades, engineering for future projects, improvements to our town buildings or cemeteries or parks, some replacement vehicles and equipment in multiple departments," Pruhenski summarized. "A commitment to fiber advancements in Housatonic and equipment and improvements to our wastewater treatment plant.”

Great Barrington voters will ultimately decide on the spending plan at town meeting on May 1st.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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