The council gave preliminary approval May 4 to a $988.25 million budget for fiscal year 2021-22, about $4.59 million less than this year’s budget.
Council also passed a levy of $27.75 million, an increase from $25.88 million this fiscal year, which covers the debt service on the town’s voter-approved bonds. It maintains the town’s secondary property tax rate of $0.99 per $100 of assessed valuation.
Both the budget and levy passed on 5-2 votes with Council Members Aimee Yentes and Laurin Hendrix voting in dissent.
A vote on final approval is scheduled for June 1.
Yentes expressed concern about some of the expenditures in the budget, particularly the hiring of 46 new positions, though some council members said some of the positions are catching up from a hiring freeze the town put on during the pandemic.
Yentes said the business case for some positions was good but that the town also should be looking for opportunities to pick up efficiencies and reduce staff where possible.
More disagreement came from the increase in the property tax levy. As in previous years, the council divided on the significance of the levy increasing while the rate stayed flat.
Hendrix said he was not opposed to taxes because they pay for things he wants in the community but said it was deceitful spin to say that because the town did not raise the tax rate, it did not raise taxes.
“We raised the taxes,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with it at all. Just tell the taxpayers, ‘We raised the taxes, and we efficiently used your money,’ and then just be straight up about it.”
However, Hendrix indicated he philosophically disagreed with the town’s approach to budgeting and said what the town painted as efficiency in paying down debt early was actually an indication that the town is overtaxing its residents.
Mayor Brigette Peterson countered by displaying her own tax bill, showing the portion going to the town of Gilbert went up about $8 from the previous year and, from the bill, that the amount of taxes levied by Gilbert Town Council was zero. That is because Gilbert has no primary property tax and that the secondary property tax is only levied on voter approval to cover debt to which they agreed.
Peterson also alluded to a Hendrix statement about the Boston Tea Party not being about taxes but a protest about being levied taxes without representation.
“The levy we were talking about tonight is exactly what council member Hendrix said happened at the tea party in Boston, which is the voters are voting for the taxes that they pay for,” she said “And that's exactly what our secondary property tax does.”
Yentes said council must respect what the voters approve but that she would like to see the tax reduced and some of the debt backfilled from the general fund, most of which comes from the town sales tax.
Council Member Scott Anderson said he twists every year to understand where council members are coming from on the rate vs. levy question.
“I think if we survey the taxpayer, they would demand that we offer the services as well or better than what we're offering now,” he said. “And we certainly can't do that if we are not able to pay off the debt that funds that quality of life that we enjoy.”
In other actions, council passed the town’s capital improvement plan for 2022-31 on a 6-1 vote with Yentes dissenting. Yentes said she supports most of the plan but has questions on portions and that because the plan further is tied up with the budget and the levy, she could not vote in support.