Boston Globe: Wellesley officials close $2m budget gap

With days left before Wellesley’s Annual Town Meeting, officials announced that the town’s $2 million budget gap has been closed without laying off town employees.

Executive director Hans Larsen said Friday that the money is being saved by eliminating a bathroom renovation project at Hunnewell Field, energy-saving plans like retrofitting more of the town’s street lights with LEDs, and higher state funding projections.

“We have no layoffs and no pay freezes,” Larsen said. “We improved our projections and will maintain our programs and staff.”

In total, $1 million of the gap will be filled by the new cost estimates and cuts; the remaining $1 million will be taken from available cash. The budget will be voted on at Town Meeting, which begins Monday.

“Town meeting members will be voting on a balanced budget,” said deputy director Chris Ketchen. “We were able to cut the deficit in half and will cover the remaining deficit with free cash.”

The announcement puts to rest months of speculation that the budget would not be ready for town meeting. As recently as this week, when the town’s advisory committee issued its town meeting report, the budget remained unbalanced, with a gap of $2,064,974.

“We reduced the number by going back to all the departments and asking them to make cuts,” Ketchen said. “For instance, we are using some money from the building department permit revolving fund, and have made some cuts to the DPW’s budget for street resurfacing.”

Larsen added that the town’s natural resources commission has elected not to add a part-time position, and that the school’s projections for electricity costs have been revised down. A small increase to the budget came from a revised estimate of the costs to upgrade the HVAC system at Town Hall.

The budget was finalized Friday morning.

Town meeting members will also vote whether to receive a new town wide financial plan, which will contain a series of recommendations from the Board of Selectmen on future budget cycles. The plan warns that the town could need an override to address a projected budget shortfall of $5.4 million in fiscal year 2013.

“This year’s town meeting will only be voting to acknowledge receipt of the plan,” Ketchen said. “No town meeting can take a vote that could bind a future town meeting.”

In addition, numerous other articles are contained on the town meeting warrant. Some of the articles include special capital projects like the Fuller Brook Park project, a new floor for the Central Fire Station, and a new office building for the Department of Public Works.

Other articles address designating Brookside Road, which abuts the Wellesley Country Club, as a scenic road, as well as accepting a landlocked parcel at 27R Kenilworth Rd. as a gift to the town and creating a tree preservation bylaw.

The warrant includes one citizen petition, which would examine the tax exempt status of the Wellesley Country Club; however, its sponsor has decided not to move forward.

Ketchen said he expects the town meeting to last at least three weeks.

“Obviously, I think we’d all like to see it done sooner, but there’s so much ground here to cover,” Ketchen said. “I can’t imagine that it would be fewer than six sessions to get it all done.”

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LOCAL REAL ESTATE UPDATE FOR HIGH END PROPERTIES

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Single-Family House Sales: Greater Boston

The closings that occur in January and February of each year generally reflect under agreements from the fourth quarter of the previous year. 2011 seems to have come out of the gate strong in terms of single-family home sales over $1 million, but the impact of the severe weather in January and February is not yet reflected in the data. Last month 45 single-family homes conveyed in Eastern Massachusetts (excluding the Cape and Islands and towns west of Worcester County) priced over $1 million and this was 3 fewer than the same month last year — a 6% decline. The market for million dollar homes is still in recovery, but we remains unclear if we will achieve the peak levels of a few years ago.

On a year-to-date basis for the year 2011, 16 more single-family homes have sold over $1 million than the same two months of 2010, for an increase of 14.2%. Last year, the market absorbed 113 million dollar homes between January and February; the comparable number in 2011 is 129 (and only 77 in 2009).

As sellers contemplate putting their luxury homes on the market this spring, they need to be aware of the imbalance between supply and demand (much more supply than demand) and the skittishness of potential buyers at the high end of the market.

The $2,000,000 to $2,999,999 price segment is also recovering, but it is a much more thinly-traded market than many sellers realize. Sales in this price band account for only 19 of 129 million dollar plus properties conveyed. This is under 15% of the entire million dollar market!

On a year-to-date basis, 6 more single-family homes have sold between $2,000,000 and $2,999,999 than the same two months of 2010, for an increase of almost 36%.

Single-Family House Sales: Statewide

While 46 towns are represented in the 142 closed sales over $1 million statewide for the first two months of 2011, the data are skewed towards the more popular communities. The top 5 towns (Newton, Wellesley, Boston, Brookline, and Barnstable) account for 42% of the closed million dollar sales. As was true last year — with the exception of Barnstable on the Cape — there is a heavy concentration of sales in this price range in the towns with the closest proximity to the City of Boston.

Some other statistics for this market segment:

— The average price for a single-family sold over $1 million so far in 2011 is $1,700,139

— The average house in this price range had 10 rooms and approximately 5 bedrooms

— On average, these houses sold at 91.68% of their original listing price — underscoring yet again the importance of accurate pricing in today’s market. Listings priced too far over market value are not selling.

For the state as a whole, million dollar single-family sales in the first two months of 2011 exceeded the same period of last year by 17.4%. Interestingly, the top 10 towns for million dollar sales were up 42% during the same period. With the exception of Cambridge and Cohasset, 8 of the top 10 towns were either flat or up.

Condominium Sales: Statewide

8 cities and towns are represented in the 51 condo sales for the first two months of 2011, but Boston alone accounts for 76.4% of the closed million dollar condo sales.

Some other statistics for this market segment:

— The average price for a condo sold over $1 million in calendar 2010 was $1,821,652. (Interestingly, this is higher than the average sales price for a single-family home in the same time period: $1,700,139.)

— The average condo in this price range had 6 rooms and approximately 3 bedrooms

— On average, these condos sold at 95.58% of their original listing price — underscoring yet again the importance of accurate pricing in today’s market. Condos priced over the market simply aren’t selling.

Comparative data for the first 2 months of 2011 versus 2010 are somewhat deceptive because of sales at 400 Stuart Street (The Clarendon), Boston. In the first 2 months of 2010, in the first wave of occupancy, 11 units closed at the building versus 2 in the same period of 2011.

Posted March 2, 2011 ~ New Wellesley Single Family listings during the last week!

Click here to view the new Wellesley listings during the last week!