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A glossary of municipal lingo

Items of business to be voted on at Town Meeting. This week’s Town Meeting warrant contains 32 articles.

Available funds 
Money that’s on hand in an account to meet unforeseen expenses or other one-time costs. Examples of available funds include free cash, the Reserve Fund, and the Stabilization Fund.

Capital project 
Capital projects, including land purchases, are projects 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
Individual voters can add their own agenda items to a Town Meeting warrant through the statutory device called a citizen petition. Article 30, Indigenous Peoples Day, was added to the Town Meeting warrant by citizen petition.

CPA fund
The Community Preservation Act, adopted by Harvard in 2001, allows the town 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, historical preservation projects, and affordable housing projects.

Enterprise fund 
A fund that is self-supporting. The town uses this kind of fund to provide certain goods and services to residents for a fee. The revenue that the town makes from selling these services is added back into the fund. Two examples: the Town Sewer Enterprise Fund and the Ambulance Enterprise Fund.

Excluded debt 
Excluded debt is debt that is exempt from the levy limitations of Proposition 2½. It allows the town to borrow money for a specific purpose and raise taxes to pay principal and interest on the loan. Excluded debt requires both a two-thirds vote at a town meeting and a majority vote at an election.

Fiscal year 
Fiscal 2023 begins July 1, 2022, and ends June 30, 2023.

Form-based code 
A land development regulation, or bylaw, that is meant to be less confusing and less wordy than the traditional bylaw used in most Massachusetts communities. In addition to written explanation, this code relies on drawings, photos, tables of information, and other visuals to explain what can be built and how it should look.

Free cash 
Money 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 request from a town or city for a new type of power from the Massachusetts Legislature—such as the right to issue an additional liquor license. If a home-rule petition is passed at Town Meeting, it is sent to state representatives and senators to be passed by the Legislature, aka the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Level-funded budget
A budget that provides each department the same funding as it had in the previous fiscal year. Level-funded budgets typically result in reduced services.

Level-service budget
A budget that provides sufficient funding to maintain services at the same level from one year to the next.

The amount of money that Harvard can raise through real and personal property taxes in any given fiscal year. The estimated allowable levy for fiscal 2023 is $26,284,266.

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.

Income or a charge from another source. Money in the Devens Fund, for example, is used to offset the cost of operating the schools.

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.

A vote by the town to increase the levy limit under Proposition 2½. Such an increase requires a majority vote at both a town meeting and an election. Harvard’s last override was in 2009.

Proposition 2½ 
Since 1980, towns have been limited by Proposition 2½ in the amount of property tax they can 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).

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

A name sometimes used by members of the Finance Committee and others for the five-year budgeted revenue and expense projection found on pages 16-17 of the Finance Committee 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.

Small warrant article 
A one-time or intermittent appropriation that is too small for a capital request. Small warrant articles are also used for expenses that will be added to the omnibus budget in future years.

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.

Town Meeting 
Harvard’s legislature, the meeting at which registered voters conduct the business of governing Harvard, including making laws and expending money. This year’s Town Meeting will be split into two sessions: the first scheduled for May 14, and another on Oct. 1.

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.

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

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