Easthampton’s $57.2M budget sails through council

The Easthampton City Council recently approved Mayor Nicole LaChapelle’s $57.2 million budget for fiscal 2025.

The Easthampton City Council recently approved Mayor Nicole LaChapelle’s $57.2 million budget for fiscal 2025.

By ALEXA LEWIS

Staff Writer

Published: 06-11-2024 12:51 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The City Council has signed off on a $57.2 million city budget for fiscal 2025, adopting a plan for next year that increases spending by 9.2% at its June 5 meeting.

Despite the expiration of pandemic-era funding that has left other municipalities grappling to bridge large gaps, Easthampton is dipping into stabilization funds that have built up over the past several years to balance its budget that calls for no layoffs or pay cuts.

In her budget letter, Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said that stabilization funds had reached “historical levels.” In fiscal 2023, the general stabilization fund and capital stabilization fund were larger than at any other time in the city’s history, at $5.9 million and $4.3 million, respectively. Since then, these funds have only continued to grow.

“This budget is kind of interesting in that this is probably going to be the first year we enter into in a while where COVID funds — whether that’s ARPA or ESSER funds — are not a major factor in how we fund our operations,” said City Councilor Thomas Peake, chair of the City’s Finance Committee.

The money in reserves, coupled with expected growth in other areas, gives the city “funding solutions” in the wake of these federal funds ending, LaChapelle said. Next year’s budget is about $4.8 million more than the current year, of which $1.8 million will come from these stabilization funds. The rest will come from the city’s anticipated growth over the next year

In addition to these reserves, the fiscal 2025 budget assumes increased local receipts due to previously planned increases in parking fines as well as inspection and permit fees. LaChapelle also expressed an emphasis on continuing and expanding grant efforts for post-COVID development.

“I would say that this year’s expense budget is probably the best expense budget I’ve put forth as a mayor,” said LaChapelle. “I think it’s realistic. I think we’re compensating our employees better, and they deserve better, and we’ve made the cut against inflation.”

The main increases in spending come from contractual increases in salaries, as well as an increase in the education budget, which once again represents the largest portion of the city’s overall budget at $20.7 million, or 36.2% of the entire budget.

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“The one area where we see a pretty substantial increase is in the school budget, and that is largely to absorb some ESSER-funded positions that were mostly around social and behavioral wellness,” said Peake.

The new school budget is up 9.78% from the current fiscal year, largely due to the absorption of these positions, which school officials agreed were still necessary. Other increases in school funding come from an increased need for out-of-district and vocational student tuition, an expected increase in electricity costs, specialized transportation, and contractual salary raises.

Easthampton Public School District leaders expressed in budget negotiations that they were focusing on maintaining existing positions rather than funding new ones next year. They describe the budget as “needs-based” and “one that seeks to align personnel and services as students continue to recover from pandemic-related learning loss and trauma.”

 

Alexa Lewis can be reached at alewis@gazettenet.com or on Instagram and Twitter at @alexamlewis.