Sanford Mantell and the Town Council and School Committee members who obviously helped him put together his budget petition are not backing down. They insist that they did not make a math error that they obviously made. Even more, they are saying that the town treasurer signed off on their calculations, which she says she did not do.
At a special Town Council meeting on Wednesday, Council member Tricia Hilton waved around a piece of paper claiming that multiple accountants had reviewed Budget #2 and found its math to be correct. On the paper (she said) were different ways to calculate the total taxes for the budget, accounting for “abatements,” which are taxes that the town doesn’t expect to be able to collect.
Every year, the Budget Committee accounts for abatements by figuring out the total tax levy, based on the spending allowed by the budget, and then adding the assumed abatements. This way, the town is allowed to collect more tax than it needs so that it won’t matter that some amount of it won’t come in. This year, the number was $30,000. Mantell and Company, all of whom should have known how this works, instead added the $30,000 in total spending.
That was incorrect and may create budgeting problems if Budget #2 wins, but it isn’t the most embarrassing error or the biggest problem. The following image shows the relevant column of Hilton’s paper and language for Budget #2 as it will appear on the ballot. The two circled numbers should be the same, but they are not. If voters approve this budget, the town won’t be able to collect enough money to cover the spending that voters will have authorized.
In order to mislead people, Hilton’s table shows $37,872,048 as a “subtotal,” but it is not. It is the total tax. Abatements can come from both motor vehicle taxes and real and tangible property taxes. If you add Mantell’s numbers together, they do not equal the total.
Worse, because voters will have approved a higher amount of spending than the budget calls for, the gap will be twice as large.