Where do you stash your cash?
While Amherst may have the highest property tax rate in the region because of the high cost of our public schools and high percentage of tax exempt entities, town officials are kind of stingy when it comes to the "overlay account."
A reserve taken off the top of annual property taxes collected (our number one source of revenues for the town's $68 million budget) and held in case someone disputes their assessment. Massachusetts Department Of Revenue recommends municipalities withhold 3% ($1.2 million) but since Amherst runs a tight ship we apply only 1% or $400,000.
Currently for FY13 (which ends June 30) we have a balance of $229,345.37, having used $183,485.14.
But of that amount used the majority was not for property tax abatements brought on by complaints of overly zealous high assessments. Every year Amherst Town Meeting unanimously approves "Personal Exemptions" which benefit veterans, blind or disabled citizens, senior citizens, surviving spouses, etc.
This year that amount alone came to $134,000 -- or more than two thirds. While there still may be an appeal to the Appellate Tax Board on appeals handled at the local level safe to assume $200,000 will end up surplus.
Not exactly a slush fund since any monies expended would need Town Meeting approval, but still somewhat "found money" that can be line item targeted toward endeavors that may be a tad controversial.
Kind of like what happens with Community Preservation Act money. Town Meeting spends that as though it flowed from the Quabbin Reservoir.
The Town Manager had originally thought about financing the $60,000 joint study with UMass by using $30,000 from the overlay account but then simply went with a free cash appropriation. Since the Chancellor was scheduled to champion the article, no special help was required.
In addition to the $200,000 that will be left over this year, the overlay account for FY2012 has $37,000 and FY2011 has $27,000 and, finally, FY2010 still has $1,000. Or a grand total of $265,000.
Additionally the town has $4,326,501 in Free Cash and $1,821,401 in Stabilization. Oh yeah, and $202,000 that Town Meeting appropriated two years ago for War Memorial Pool renovations that was never used due to a state grant covering the costs.
(Just don't tell anyone.)