“Focus on Melrose” is a series of blog posts that uses my State of the City address as a starting point to explore the City of Melrose budget and operations. We will present a different aspect every Thursday.
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.
In this case, the story is pretty simple: State aid to the City of Melrose dropped sharply between Fiscal Year 2001 and FY 2012, and it has yet to recover fully.
Here’s what’s not in the picture: It’s getting worse. When I asked our Chief Financial Officer, Patrick Dello Russo, what the prospects are for Fiscal Year 2018, he said, “We are anticipating over $70,000 less in state aid than we received in Fiscal 2017.”
This is important because the less we receive in state aid, the more we rely on property taxes—but property taxes are capped by Proposition 2 ½.
“Since Fiscal Year 2009, we have lost over $1.4 million in state aid,” Patrick says, “yet we are required to support services to the public that cost more now than they did then.”
Patrick sees this downward trend continuing, pointing to the increasing burden that health care is putting on the state budget. Charter schools are another factor: “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has failed to fund the Charter School Reimbursement to cities and towns, from what is legally required, by $54 million,” he says. “At the same time, charter school assessments—the amount we owe the state—have gone up by $60 million. This is a fiscal recipe for financial disaster.”
It is clear that we can no longer depend on state aid to meet our budgetary requirements, and it will take us longer to reach our goals. Instead, we must rely on careful planning to allow us to continue to deliver the level of services our residents expect—and to continue to build a better city for our children and grandchildren.