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Ruminations

Once again, the Town of Milford has an embarrassment of riches – $6.3 million of what's known as "free cash."

It really isn't "free."

These funds come from town budgets – raised through property taxes or from state aid from state taxes – that weren't completely spent. They come from the town getting more money than expected from sources such as paying excise tax on your car, or from permit and license fees paid for by people doing things like opening a business or building additions on their houses.

Going into last Monday night's Special Town Meeting, the Finance Committee and the town's financial managers proposed using $2.4 million of that free cash to provide "taxpayer relief."

Basically, that means not spending as much as is allowed under the guidelines of Proposition 2 ½, a state law enacted by voters 36 years ago that takes the state Department of Revenue 16 pages to explain. (Don't believe me? Go to: http://www.mass.gov/dor/docs/dls/publ/misc/levylimits.pdf.)

Spread across all of Milford's taxpayers, the net effect of that $2.4 million in taxpayer relief is negligible.

And, it really was more than offset by the roughly $5 million in spending requests – all to be raised through property taxes – that were on last Monday's own meeting warrant.

Wouldn't it have been easier to just pay for all that stuff using the free cash and not new taxes? Think about it: You have money already raised through taxes or permit fees sitting there, but now you want to raise taxes again to pay for things.

The problem with my thinking – which I believe is common sense – is that it runs into the myriad of laws and regulations about levy limits and levy capacity and all the other stuff that came with Proposition 2 ½.

When most people get their property tax bills and complain about them, they fail to realize that those bills are a direct result of how much money the town spends – voted on by town meeting members at town meetings.

If you want lower property taxes, then spend less – which, I guess, is the idea behind not spending that $2.4 million.

Take some consolation in the fact that – under Proposition 2 ½ – the town actually could be taxing you another $3.2 million (including that $2.4 million) but chose not to.

Now, if you're having trouble following all these numbers, don't feel too bad. I've got 40 years of experience in looking at municipal budgets and I still have to double-check everything before writing about it!




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