Some of the most confusing issues for the uninitiated Town Meeting participant involve the terminology related to the Town Budget. You will hear the following terms in the reports of the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee:
Budget - A financial plan for a given period of time embodying both estimates of proposed expenditures and the proposed means of financing them.
Fiscal Year - Cities and towns in Massachusetts operate on a fiscal year which begins July 1 and ends June 30. The number of the fiscal year is the calendar year when it ends.
Levy Limit - Under Proposition 2 ½ the maximum amount that a community can raise in real property taxes is 2 ½ % more than the maximum it was allowed to raise for the prior fiscal year plus new growth revenue.
New Growth Revenue - The amount of property tax revenue a community can add to its tax levy by taxing new construction. It is computed using the prior fiscal year's tax rate.
Excess Levy Capacity - The difference between a community's maximum tax levy limit and the amount it actually levies in real property taxes.
Free Cash - The amount of surplus revenue over and above uncollected taxes as of July 1 of each year as certified by the State. It is available for appropriation by Town Meeting.
Overlay - The overlay is the amount raised by the Assessors independently of Town Meeting as permitted by law for the purpose of creating a fund to cover property tax abatements and avoid fractions in the tax rate.
Reserve Fund - The fund established by the voters at Annual Town Meeting for extraordinary or unforeseen expenditures. Transfers from the Reserve Fund require the approval of the Finance Committee.
Cherry Sheet - Named for the cherry colored paper on which the Massachusetts Department of Revenue traditionally printed it on, the cherry sheet details the estimated state aid to be received by the Town along with state assessments to be paid by the Town.
Override - A referendum procedure in which a community by popular vote can either increase its levy limit (general override) or collect property taxes in excess of its levy limit to finance specific capital expenditures (debt exclusion or capital outlay exclusion overrides).
Topsfield's Town Meeting is a blend of tradition and rules established in the book, TOWN MEETING TIME, A HANDBOOK OF PARLIAMENTARY LAW, prepared by the Massachusetts Moderator's Association. A few common terms and procedures that arise during Town Meeting include:
Privileged motion - A speaker may be interrupted only for a point of order, a question of the legality of a motion, or a question to clarify information.
Previous Question - Previous or moving of the question is a formal motion which, if passed, cuts off debate. The motion is non-debatable.
Reconsideration - Reconsideration is rarely permitted and only to correct an oversight or an illegality.
Adjourn/Dissolve - A meeting may adjourn to a later time and a different place, but when a meeting is dissolved it is finished. A meeting may not be dissolved until every article in the Warrant has been acted upon.