Residents of Great Barrington, Massachusetts weighed in this week on the town’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget.
At a virtual meeting Tuesday night, only a few townsfolk offered their input on the almost $13 million spending plan that would begin July 1st.
“One of the things that is always problematic is there are no public bathrooms in this town," said Karen Smith, chair of the town’s parks and recreation commission. “We are a hub for cultural events. We want people to come to town, we want them to eat outside, whatever. And the amount of jazz — we've gone through over 20 years of no, we don't want to redo Town Hall. No, we can't do it. But now with I think we have community impact, or pot money, I would make the pun that pot for potties, or there's no greater impact than having to have to go to the bathroom and have nowhere to go. Not only for us, but for our visitors.”
The town has around $3 million in retail marijuana revenue to spend this budget cycle. Per state law, half of the money must be spent on the loosely defined objective of mitigating negative impacts on the community from the legal weed sales.
While Smith’s passionate endorsement of public bathrooms was embraced by town leaders, it won’t be funded from that source.
“The finance committee and select board endorse the public bathrooms, have put into the budget $100,000 for them," said Select board chair Steve Bannon. "Funding sources to be determined. We may, we will look for grants. But if not, it's probably a borrowing item. And it's probably two years away, because the whole campus of the town hall is going to be redone in two years. And when we redo the campus, that'll be part of it.”
Bannon says the town will only use a portion of the community impact funds for fiscal year 2022.
“We decided not to use the whole $1.5 million so that we could stretch it out over a number of years,” he explained.
Town manager Mark Pruhenski has formed a committee to advise him on how to spend $375,000 of that money.
The other $1.5 million will go into the town’s general fund.
“It wasn't designated for any one item," said the select board chair. "Instead, to keep the taxes down was the biggest use of that portion.”
Bannon is bullish on the town’s fiscal health.
“We’re fortunate," he told WAMC. "We have a fairly good amount of free cash in good financial shape. So we're going to fund some stabilization accounts that we're not always able to fund. And the final result that people should be excited about is that the increase in the budget is small. Right now, at least, if, seeing what's approved at the town meeting, about 23 cents per $1,000, which is lowest it's been in years. We used a lot of free cash to be able to offset some of the increases that we had.”
The final version of the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget is around 6% over the current year.
At last year’s town meeting, some residents questioned a 2% increase in the police department budget and called unsuccessfully for cuts. Now, that line item will increase by 7% or around $120,000 in the proposed budget.
“There’ll be a lot of community use for the monies, police will have a lot more interaction with the community, whether it's the non-English speaking community or low-income community or the youth," said Bannon. "And there'll be a lot more community impacts with the police department.”
With Great Barrington’s finance committee and select board signing off, residents will have the opportunity to accept or reject the budget at the annual town meeting in June.