ATHENS — It wasn’t even close last week when Town Meeting voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposed town budget, which carried a hefty potential tax increase.
And this week’s snowstorm, which plunged most of Athens into the dark because of widespread power outages, postponed the first step the Select Board and the town’s Budget Committee were going to take in coming up with a new spending plan, according to Select Board Chairman David Bemis.
The proposed budget, $632,000, would have seen an increase of about 30 percent in local taxes, according to townspeople at their annual Town Meeting last week. The amount to be raised by local taxes was $513,214, which was up substantially from last year’s local tax levy of $374,232.
And that was just too much, and Athens became one — if not the only — town to reject its budget during Town Meeting 2023.
Bemis said this week that the budget was up largely due to inflation, higher costs in fuel and gravel and other increases.
But also mentioned by resident Sherry Maher during the meeting were two pay raises given to the town’s highway crew — including an 8 percent raise in January, on top of two increases last year.
Resident Don Capponcelli estimated that the Athens’ combined town and school tax rate would jump from $1.04 to $1.40, which he called a “one-third” increase.
Maher said the town budget tax burden reflected a 37 percent increase.
Citing information in the town report about the highway department’s payroll, she noted that the highway crew had received both 3 and 7 percent raises as well, with an 8 percent increase as of January.
She noted that the 8 percent was already being paid, even though the town budget hadn’t been approved by townspeople.
“The town hasn’t voted on it yet,” she said.
Maher urged townspeople to vote down the budget, or amend the budget on the floor of the meeting.
Voters, via a paper ballot, voted 40 to 14 against approving the budget.
Bemis at the time pledged that the Select Board and the Budget Committee would get to work on a new budget.
He said this week, that the Select Board and Budget Committee hadn’t had a chance to meet yet and he said he didn’t know how much of a reduction the two boards would seek.