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Lenox Town Meeting attendees approve budget, middle/high school expansion study

Officials and citizens applauded Town Manager Christopher Ketchen as he readies for a new state job.

Lenox — Highlighted by a $35.4 million budget for fiscal year 2025, residents approved all 14 articles in the Town Meeting Warrant on May 2.

Including appropriations, the property tax levy for the coming year is estimated at $19 million, a 6.75 percent increase year over year, Town Manager Christopher Ketchen said. That increase results in an estimated 5.6 percent tax bill increase based on the town’s new growth of $200,000, a figure he called “conservative” since Lenox’s financials exceeded the projected growth almost every year for the past 10 years.

The impact of this measure increases the current residential tax rate of $9.07 to $9.58 per $1,000 assessed value and to $13.57 per $1,000 assessed value for commercial, industrial, and personal property. The median home assessed in Lenox is $481,600 and, at that value, the residential tax bill would be $4,614.

For fiscal year 2024, the town’s valuation stands at $1.8 billion.

The budget was calculated on inflationary measures affecting health insurance and utility fees, as well as additional resources for police and facility operations, including a compensation study to ensure Lenox is competitive with other markets in its wage practices, Ketchen said. The town’s revenue is primarily comprised of real and personal property taxes, along with lodging, meals, and motor vehicle excise taxes. State aid and “enterprise funds,” meaning the municipality’s water and wastewater funds that are fully supported by customer revenue, also contribute. On the expenses side of the local government, the public school system is the largest recipient of the funds at 47.6 percent of its total appropriations.

The meeting’s agenda—called by Ketchen as “almost exclusively a financial warrant”—was bittersweet for the town official and resident as he assumes a position with the Commonwealth’s Division of Local Services in a couple of months. He has served Lenox for the past decade. “With that, I will say the most understated ‘thank you’ to the town of Lenox that anyone could possibly give,” Ketchen said. “It’s been an honor. There’s no shortage of emotion this being my last annual Town Meeting, but the good news is I look forward to sitting in your seat at my next Town Meeting. I really appreciate it. It has really been a pleasure.”

In addition to approving the operating budget, residents funded various municipal departments tallying $9.5 million; the Lenox Public Schools in the amount of $19.2 million; sewer and wastewater enterprises that are entirely subsidized by customer rates; capital expenditures for facilities and equipment from free cash ($1.3 million); and accepted state aid ($275,000) for road paving.

A $200,000 feasibility study for the town’s middle/high school was approved to be funded from free cash, with the potential construction of new science classrooms being the subject of the project.

A total of just over $1 million in Community Preservation Committee (CPC) funds were approved at the meeting.

Following a failed amendment by Robert Vaughn that would have cut down the CPC expenditure of $189,750 by almost $100,000 to the working farm and equestrian center Homefarm at Undermountain, the measure moved forward. Vaughn said the owners of Homefarm had received other contributions and, should the town add funds close to $200,000, would not have “skin in the game” for its success. However, the nonprofit’s representatives replied that the historic on-site barns “will fall down” without funding for needed repairs.

Along with other CPC recipients, including Ventfort Hall (masonry work), Lenox Affordable Housing Trust, Penrose/Brushwood Housing Project, and The Mount (accessible trails), Church on the Hill received $76,000 to restore the tower, clock, and steeple at the 1805 Meeting House, 169 Main Street. When combined with funds from a previous CPC grant, as well as private donations and the Church’s endowment, the recipient will be able to complete the first phase of a project to preserve the historic structure “and adapt it for increased community use,” according to a May 3 news release from the church.

“The CPC grant is a wonderful sign of support from the town,” stated church moderator Amy Chin in the release. “It confirms the visual and symbolic importance of the Meeting House, and we greatly appreciate it. The Meeting House is a gateway to the Lenox Cultural District, and it is important that we work together to maintain its beauty and preserve it for generations to come.”

Appropriations to both the Fire Engine and Ambulance stabilization funds were approved for $175,000 and $50,000, respectively, contributions reserved for the replacement of fire apparatus and ambulance when needed so the town doesn’t have to borrow these monies. An appropriation of $250,000 will aid repair improvements to the Lenox Library and a one-time appropriation of $1,087.54 was confirmed to pay for a prior year’s unemployment invoice dating back to the pandemic.


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