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Proposed '16 budget up 2.1%; Manager says town providing 'better service for lower costs'.

Byline: Susan Spencer

MILLBURY -- Town Manager Robert J. Spain Jr. has presented a $39.4 million budget proposal for fiscal 2016 that includes $37.8 million in the general fund budget and about $1.6 million in the sewer enterprise fund.

The general fund budget is 2.1 percent higher than that of the current year.

Despite continuing decreased reliance on state aid, which makes up 23 percent of the 2016 budget revenue compared to 29 percent in fiscal 2009, Mr. Spain said Thursday, modest growth in local receipts plus several cost-cutting measures have kept the budget in balance.

"We have leveraged economies of scale that provide better service for lower costs,'' Mr. Spain said in a statement. "For instance, through the efforts of your town financial team and cooperation from our employees, we have managed to mitigate the increase in health insurance costs.

"Additionally, we have several net metering agreements in place that lower our electric bills. We also signed an electricity supply contract of $7.79 per kilowatt-hour which has two more years to run.''

Mr. Spain said that health insurance premium increases were negotiated to 4.5 percent, from Fallon Health's initial proposed increase of 6 percent. But the town also saw savings from higher-than-expected use of Fallon's lower-cost direct care option, versus the wider-network Select Care. Also, turnover in employees resulted in lower enrollment.

Overall, despite increases in retirement and workers compensation costs, employee benefit expenses in the proposed budget decreased because of the health insurance savings by 0.04 percent, to $6.616 million.

The School Department budget, which, including its employee insurance, makes up 62 percent of total expenditures, is proposed to increase by 3.5 percent in the town manager's budget. This increase is less than the nearly 5 percent increase approved by the School Committee, which was mainly due to increased personnel, special education and transportation costs, Mr. Spain said.

Public safety expenses are projected to increase by 3.1 percent to include wage adjustments and a school resource officer.

General insurance, another area with higher-than-average increases, is up $11,550, or 3 percent. "We have had some big claims, and this is causing the rates to start going up,'' Mr. Spain said. "We are aggressively pursuing options with our agent.''

On the revenue side, Mr. Spain emphasized that Wheelabrator and The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley provide more revenue to the town than they use in services.

"Between these two organizations, they provide approximately 10 percent of our total general fund revenue, and we would be up the creek without them,'' he said.

Contact Susan Spencer at Follow her on Twitter @SusanSpencerTG

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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Spencer, Susan
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 9, 2015
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