Let the Numbers Tell the Story

For 33 years, I have pursued my passion of bringing better financing solutions to the world. I received my undergrad degree from the College of William and Mary in International Political Economy (a major I designed to help me advance my goals) and an MBA with a concentration in Finance from the Wharton School.

My professional career took me from Wall Street to the US Government lending agency called the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and then finally, to my work today helping clients unlock the coffers of the world’s development banks to advance new technology, cutting edge infrastructure and climate resiliency. I have traveled to and worked in more than 75 countries, but some of my most rewarding work is here in Westfield.

As the Chair of the Finance Committee, I have an important job watching over your tax dollars. Over the past four years, I have put my experience as an auditor and banker to work—focusing on the details, but not losing sight of the big picture. I have pushed every Town department head to focus their individual budgets on cost savings, on shared service opportunities, on ideas for new revenue streams, and on long-term planning. I have put a million+ dollars previously held in special operating accounts to work for you—investing them in equipment, vehicles and roads that increase your quality of life. I have also worked diligently with my colleagues on the committee to right-size our savings (or surplus) from a bloated $14.5 million to a more appropriate level.

The surplus is the most misunderstood number in our municipal budget. Like a savings account, its purpose is to ensure we have a “rainy day” fund to get us through unexpected future emergencies. Each year this account is replenished. It gets refilled by revenues we didn’t expect and reductions in expenses we were able to realize. Then, in the budget process, we decide how much surplus to invest vs continue to keep in savings, taking into account a lot of other factors.

When I assumed office, our bloated surplus significantly exceeded what was deemed necessary by a number of finance professionals we approached, including our own auditors. Having too much surplus meant our residents were being unnecessarily overtaxed, and so we worked to right-size this account. We carefully invested the unneeded surplus in new equipment, new roads, enhanced services, and long range planning. We also used the excess surplus to reduce municipal tax rate increases that would have otherwise been borne by you and me.

The COVID pandemic proved to be the largest health and financial emergency the Town has ever faced, and our non-tax revenues diminished significantly as a result. However, even after we had right-sized it, our surplus balance proved to be more than adequate. We ended the year 2020 with $9.6MM in surplus, and became the envy of many other municipalities in the state. In 2021, we carefully tapped our surplus account again versus overly increasing your taxes, and, almost nine months into the year, we appear on track to replenish the surplus account fully.

The facts behind this administration’s financial success over the last four years are clear. Due to our efforts:
--Your average municipal tax rate increase over the last four years was 1.1%, less than half of the inflation rate over the same period.
--The borrowing rate offered to the Town of Westfield in August 2021 was a mere .21%, the lowest interest rate ever paid by Westfield on a loan because the banks are impressed with the Town’s financial health.
--Our AAA bond rating has been maintained even with a surplus level that is one-third less than it was 4 years ago.

In my job on the Council, I feel a sense of shared responsibility regarding the wise use of our tax dollars, and I am proud of the successful stewardship proven out by the facts above. Somehow the numbers always manage to tell the story.

Linda Habgood
Chair of the Finance Policy Committee
Ward 1 Councilwoman