Marblehead State Of The Town: Cuts Needed But Override Not Expected

MARBLEHEAD, MA — Marblehead municipal departments — including schools — face about $4.25 million in combined cuts to budgets for the next fiscal year as Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer said he hopes making those cuts will allow the town to avoid requesting a general tax override for the second straight year amid an ongoing structural deficit.

A $2.5 million override request was shot down in a townwide vote last June with the schools losing the equivalent of 33 full-time positions because of the failed vote. A school-requested general override in 2022 also failed.

“It is our expectation that we’re going to be able to get to a bottom-line number and not ask for an override to fund it,” Kezer said. “There is work to be done to get there. I always say that we’re making progress but the outcome is uncertain. But that’s the expectation now that we’re going to get to that number (without a Proposition 2 1/2 override).”

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Kezer laid out a proposed budget where revenues are coming in at about $107 million and expenses $111.25 million. The budget includes reducing the reliance on so-called “free cash” — budgeted at $5 million to balance the budget this year compared with $10 million two years ago — the proposal to include a new local meals tax and hospitality room tax to generate revenue, and examine fees to make sure they are in line with neighboring communities.

(More on Patch: Ominous Marblehead School Budget Warning Ahead Of ‘State Of The Town’)

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Kezer also proposed a warrant article that would include increasing the senior tax abatement for the first time in 21 years from $750 to $1,500 for qualifying residents.

Kezer said the $4 million in cuts would need to come roughly equally from the town expenses and school expenses. Last year, the schools cut $1.5 million in expenses by eliminating the 33 full-time positions and associated services.

Kezer said the key budget drivers for Fiscal 2025 include an 8 percent increase in health insurance premiums, wage pressures in workforce recruitment and retention, the risk of what he called “catastrophic” capital failures in aging facilities, and trash and recycling costs that he said are “at an all-time high.”

“Despite the optimism that I’m displaying as to how we’re making progress,” Kezer said, “we are not out of the woods in a long-term sense dealing with our structural deficit. Very likely at some point, our only option is going to be an override.

“Our goal when we build budgets is to keep pushing that out further and further out by any other means possible. We think that’s our duty to taxpayers.”

Kezer proposed $1 million in free cash be appropriate to those one-time capital needs, which he said is an appropriate use of the surplus funds instead of using free cash to balance the operating budget.

The proposed meals tax would be 0.75 percent, while the proposed rooms tax could be as high as 6 percent, which could generate up to $1 million in revenue a year.

“That is significant,” Kezer said. “That’s why every other municipality in the area and folks across the Commonwealth have accepted that.”

(Scott Souza is a Patch field editor covering Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody, Salem and Swampscott. He can be reached at X/Twitter: @Scott_Souza.)

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