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Thurman town taxes to plunge 28 percent, while town retains cash cushion

ATHOL - Taxpayers in Thurman will be experiencing a dramatic decrease in town taxes this January due to new prevailing financial management, town government officials said Tuesday.

According to a 2010 preliminary town budget crafted Oct. 20, Thurman taxpayers are likely to have a 2010 tax rate of $3.34 per thousand of assessed valuation, a 28.3 percent reduction of the 2009 tax rate of $4.66 per thousand.

The 2010 total of the highway and general fund appropriations minus revenues and unexpended fund balance leaves $515,960 to be raised by taxes, rather than the $709,540 sum in 2009, or a similar 27.3 percent reduction.

A recent state audit criticized the town government for routinely underestimating revenues and overstating expenses over the past several years, and sticking the excess money - about $900,000 - in the bank rather than reducing the tax rate for the taxpayers or putting it in a designated capital reserve fund.

Town board members said Monday that the town's former top official, John Haskell, who had served as budget officer, had for years not provided clear, comprehensive budgets, and they had no idea the town had been stashing excess cash that belonged to taxpayers.

In February, the state Comptroller found about $600,000 that town board members said they didn't know existed.

Board members Charles Bills and James Ligon - who were in office in late 2008 - said that Haskell's budget numbers routinely didn't make sense.

"When I got on the board, there was no real record-keeping that added up," Ligon said. "There were numbers crossed out and penciled in - The budget process was very secretive, and it was all but impossible to get information, and what you got was unbelievable."

A year ago, the board had wrestled with a tentative budget that called for a 62 percent increase, but carved it down in mid-November to a 25 percent increase, which in retrospect was a totally unnecessary hike.

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