A Bristol town budget that would increase property taxes by 1.6 percent is up for public scrutiny at a special Town Council meeting next Wednesday.
Residents will have their say on the proposed tax rate increase of 20 cents per thousand dollars of a home’s taxable value. The average $300,000 home in Bristol would carry an annual tax bill of $4,491, if the tax rate of $14.97 per thousand is approved. The meeting before the Town Council is scheduled for April 26 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall on Court Street.
If approved, the town’s spending plan crafted by Town Administrator Steven Contente would increase by about $700,000 — or 1.29 percent — over last year, to $54.3 million. Separate from the tax rate is the enterprise sewer fund, which would increase with the next budget by $18.73 per house per year to pay for the debt service on past improvements to the sewer system.
With taxes and sewer rates combined, the average Bristol home owner would pay a total of about $78 more per year under the proposed plan.
“That is a very conservative increase. I want to show we are being very fiscally responsible,” Mr. Contente said. “I listened very carefully to the need to hold the line on our tax rate. I know where we can cut and still maintain public safety, our infrastructure and a moderate increase in spending to education at an affordable amount to our homeowners.”
Education spending would increase by a little less than $300,000, for a total of $25.4 million to the regional school committee. Department spending appears to increase on paper, but the operating costs of several departments will actually decrease.
The Police Department, for example, would see a 3 percent spending cut even though the department budget shows an increase of about $2.5 million over last year. Likewise, the Fire Department shows a budget increase of about a half-million, while spending will actually decrease.
The discrepancy is due to costs like health insurance, pensions and payroll taxes that were previously lumped together in the budget under “Fixed Charges.” Accounting changes now apply those costs to individual departments, making it appear as if those departments are getting an increase. It’s part of a transparency campaign encouraged by the state. Bristol is a pilot community for the new accounting practices intended to give a truer representation of the costs of each municipal department.
Fixed costs actually account for the largest increase in the town budget — $200,000, or 3.2 percent. Other significant increases include Public Works ($88,748, or 2.8 percent) to pay for increased tipping fees at the state landfill, and the Finance Department ($86,584 or 14.9 percent) to begin preparing for the upcoming property revaluation.