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A glossary of town meeting jargon

Articles Items
of business to be voted on at Town Meeting. This week’s Town Meeting warrant contains 21 numbered articles.

Available funds Mon
ey that’s on hand in an account to meet unforeseen expenses or other one-time costs. Examples of available funds include free cash (see “Free Cash”), the Reserve Fund, and the Stabilization Fund.

Capital project
Capital projects, including land purchases, are those that cost more than $20,000 and have a useful life of more than five years. Each year the Capital Planning and Investment Committee reviews and rates requests for such projects and draws up a list of those it recommends be funded. The budget includes the estimated cost of each project and how it will be paid for.

Citizen petition 
Citizens can add an article to the warrant at a Town Meeting by collecting the signatures of 10 registered voters.

CPA fund 
The Community Preservation Act (CPA), adopted by Harvard in 2001, permits Harvard to levy a real estate surtax of 1.1% on Harvard properties with the possibility of matching funds provided by the state. The fund can be spent on open space preservation, preservation of historical resources, development of affordable housing, or the acquisition and development of outdoor recreational facilities. A minimum of 10% of the annual fund income must go toward each of the following: open space projects (excluding recreational uses), historic preservation projects, and affordable housing projects.

Debt exclusion 
When the town is in debt for a specific project, the amount of money needed to pay debt service costs is added to the levy, which may cause the levy amount to increase beyond its limit. A debt exclusion must be approved by a two-thirds vote at Town Meeting and a majority vote at the polls.

Fiscal year 
Fiscal 2021 begins July 1, 2020, and ends June 30, 2021.

Free cash 
Funds remaining from line items in Harvard’s previous year’s budget, plus revenue received in excess of budget, less any unpaid back taxes, and reduced by any fund deficits. These funds are certified each year by the state Department of Revenue and are then available to the town. If the money is not appropriated by June 30, it ceases to be available for use by the town until the next round of certification the following fiscal year.

General Fund 
This account is used by the town for money received and spent, including federal and state reimbursements and local property taxes and fees. Money in the General Fund may be appropriated only by a majority vote of Town Meeting.

Home-rule petition 
A petition to the state Legislature to enact special legislation pertaining to Harvard. Article 18 is a petition to amend Harvard’s home rule law that sets a cap on property taxes for means-tested seniors.

Levy 
The amount of money that Harvard can raise through real and personal property taxes in any given fiscal year. The projected levy for fiscal 2021 is $21,559,559.

Local aid/cherry sheet 
The notice from the state detailing the share of state aid that the town will be receiving in the next fiscal year, as well as the state assessments that the town will be charged for.

Local receipts 
Income derived by the town from motor vehicle excise taxes, Transfer Station fees, licenses and permits, penalties and interest on taxes, and so on.

New growth 
The additional tax revenue generated by new construction, renovations, and other increases in the property tax base during a calendar year. It does not include value increases caused by normal market forces or by revaluations. The amount is added to the levy limit in addition to the 2.5% increase allowed under Proposition 2½.

Omnibus budget 
For convenience, all recommended appropriations for operating expenses of Harvard’s various town departments are gathered in one multipage article for consideration at Town Meeting. The period covered by the omnibus budget is the upcoming fiscal year. The fiscal 2021 omnibus budget can be found on pages 35 through 39 of the 2020 Spring Town Meeting booklet.

Override 
A vote by the town to increase the levy limit allowed under Proposition 2½. Such an increase requires a majority vote at both a town meeting and an election. Since 1980, towns have been limited by Proposition 2½ in the amount of property tax they may levy without an override vote. This limitation requires an increase in the property tax to be held to no more than 2.5% of the previous year’s tax levy plus the value of taxable property added by new construction (new growth). Harvard’s last override was in 2009. An override of $320,000 is being requested for fiscal 2021.

Protective Bylaw 
Laws enacted by Town Meeting—in accordance with state law—to protect the health, safety, and welfare of Harvard citizens.

Recap 
Projection of all revenue and spending expected in the coming fiscal year. For comparison, it includes actual amounts for fiscal 2019 and 2020, the requested budget amounts for fiscal 2021, and projected amounts for fiscal 2021 through fiscal 2025. The recap appears on pages 13 and 14 of the warrant booklet.

Reserve Fund 
An annual fund established by a town meeting warrant article to cover extraordinary or unforeseen expenses during each fiscal year. Any department needing to spend more than its budget on a particular line item must ask the Finance Committee to make a transfer from the Reserve Fund. Sums not transferred by June 30 revert to the town’s overlay reserve. Town officials ask Town Meeting to transfer money into the fund each year to cover the extra cost of snow removal in a hard winter or unexpected spending for special education students.

Revolving Fund 
A fund for a specific project or service from which the town can continue to expend money for that project or service. As revenues are raised by doing so, money goes back into the fund. This year, Article 16 creates a new revolving fund for Parks and Recreation field maintenance. Article 17 sets caps to limit the expenditures of several revolving funds in town. 

Stabilization Fund
A permanent fund used to smooth out unexpected increases in budgeted expenses or to pay for capital projects. Harvard has two such funds: One is the Stabilization Fund, which covers unexpected increases in the town budget, and the second is the Capital Stabilization and Investment Fund for capital projects. To appropriate money from these funds requires a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting.

Sunset date
The date by which the appropriation for a specific project expires. After this date, it is no longer authorized for money to be expended on that project. This year, Article 2 calls for a vote to extend the sunset dates for several projects in town, allowing the town to continue spending money allocated for these projects.

Town Meeting 
Harvard’s legislature, the meeting at which registered voters conduct the business of governing Harvard, including making laws and expending money.

Transfers 
Money appropriated for use in a line item of Harvard’s omnibus budget and later proposed to be moved to another line item or to be expended for another purpose. It is also the money from any designated fund proposed for use in a warrant article. A transfer must be approved by a majority vote of Town Meeting.

Warrant 
The list of articles, issued by the Select Board, that make up the agenda of items to be voted on at Town Meeting.

Compiled by Hannah Taylor and the staff of the Harvard Press

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