AFC Glossary of Terms 2012

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Monday, 19 March 2012 18:28


( Copied from the 2012 Report and Recommendations of the Advisory Finance Committee to the ANNUAL and SPECIAL TOWN MEETINGS, March 17, 2012 (FY2013), retrieved from: ).

Also, the attributed source in the report for the following info is, "Definitions provided by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue in its “Municipal Finance Glossary” available at: (DOR:  Home > Local Officials > Municipal Data and Financial Management > Municipal Knowledge Base)."

[Webmaster note: the 29 page PDF for the FULL Massachusett's "Municipal Finance Glossary" referenced above may be found listed on the "Division of Local Services" publications page.]

Debt Exclusion - An action taken by a community through a referendum vote to raise the funds necessary to pay debt service costs for a particular project from the property tax levy, but outside the limits under Proposition 2½. By approving a debt exclusion, a community calculates its annual levy limit under Proposition 2½, then adds the excluded debt service cost. The amount is added to the  levy limit for the life of the debt only and may increase the levy above the levy ceiling.

Excess Levy Capacity - The difference between the levy limit and the amount of real and personal property taxes actually levied in a given year. Annually, the board of selectmen or city council must be informed of excess levy capacity and their acknowledgment must be submitted to DOR when setting the tax rate.

Free cash - Remaining, unrestricted funds from operations of the previous fiscal year including unexpended free cash from the previous year, actual receipts in excess of revenue estimates shown on the tax recapitulation sheet, and unspent amounts in budget line-items. Unpaid property taxes and certain deficits reduce the amount that can be certified as free cash. The calculation of free cash is based on the balance sheet as of June 30, which is submitted by the community's auditor, accountant, or comptroller. Important: free cash is not available for appropriation until certified by the Director of Accounts.

Levy - The amount a community raises through the property tax. The levy can be any amount up to the levy limit, which is re-established every year in accordance with Proposition 2½ provisions.  Levy Limit - A levy limit is one of two types of levy (tax) restrictions imposed by MGL Ch. 59 §21C (Proposition 2½). It states that the real and personal property taxes imposed by a city or town may only grow each year by 2½ percent of the prior year's levy limit, plus new growth and any overrides or exclusions. The levy limit can exceed the levy ceiling only if the community passes a capital expenditure exclusion, debt exclusion, or special exclusion.

Local Aid - Revenue allocated by the Commonwealth to cities, towns, and regional school districts.  Estimates of local aid are transmitted to cities, towns, and districts annually by the "Cherry Sheets." Most Cherry Sheet aid programs are considered general fund revenues and may be spent for any purpose, subject to appropriation.

Local Receipts- Locally generated revenues, other than real and personal property taxes. Examples include motor vehicle excise, investment income, hotel/motel tax, fees, rentals, and charges. Annual estimates of local receipts are shown on the tax rate recapitulation sheet.

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. New growth is calculated by multiplying the assessed value associated with new construction, renovations and other increases by the prior year tax rate.  

The additional tax revenue is then incorporated into the calculation of the next year's levy limit. For example, new growth for FY06 is based on new construction, etc. that occurred between January and December 2004. In the fall of 2005, when new growth is being estimated to set the FY06 levy limit, the FY05 tax rate is used in the calculation.

Overlay Reserve - An account established annually to fund anticipated property tax abatements, exemptions and uncollected taxes in that year. The overlay reserve is not established by the normal appropriation process, but rather is raised on the tax rate recapitulation sheet.

Overlay Surplus - Any balance in the overlay account of a given year in excess of the amount remaining to be collected or abated can be transferred into this account. Within ten days of a written request by the chief executive officer of a city or town, the assessors must provide a certification of the excess amount of overlay available to transfer. Overlay surplus may be appropriated for any lawful purpose.

Reserve Fund - An amount set aside annually within the budget of a city (not to exceed 3 percent of the tax levy for the preceding year) or town (not to exceed 5 percent of the tax levy for the preceding year) to provide a funding source for extraordinary or unforeseen expenditures. In a town, the finance committee can authorize transfers from this fund for "extraordinary or unforeseen" expenditures.  Other uses of the fund require budgetary transfers by town meeting. In a city, transfers from this fund may be voted by the city council upon recommendation of the mayor.

Stabilization Fund - A fund designed to accumulate amounts for capital and other future spending purposes, although it may be appropriated for any lawful purpose (M.G.L. c. 40, §5B). Communities may establish one or more stabilization funds for different purposes and may appropriate into them in any year an amount not to exceed ten percent of the prior year’s tax levy. A two-thirds vote of town meeting or city council is required to establish, amend the purpose of, or appropriate money from the stabilization fund.

Last Updated on Monday, 19 March 2012 19:48