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Council to decide if budget is a 'blueprint'


June 14, 2013
By Carley Dangona

carley@thereminder.com

AGAWAM — The City Council will conduct a public hearing on June 17 regarding the proposed $87.66 million fiscal year 2014 (FY14) budget. Highlights include a projected tax decrease for homeowners, $1.5 million in Certified Free Cash and a $1.97 million School Department budget.

The hearing will take place at 7 p.m. at the Roberta G. Doering School, 68 Main St. The FY14 budget titled, "Blueprint for Success: Building a Strong Community," accepted the initial budget request approved by the Agawam School Committee and provides funds for the Police Department to undergo further tactical training.

When asked if he thought a June 17 hearing was cutting it too close to the June 30 approval deadline, Mayor Richard Cohen told Reminder Publications, "Not at all — it's right in time," adding that the date follows the usual budget timeframe.

He noted that one change to the budget process was its presentation to the City Council. Previously, three council subcommittees would review the budget and then report back to the full council. This year, Cohen and the town department heads presented the budget to the council on two separate nights.

Cohen said he chose the title because he is "extremely pleased" with the budget and believes it's the key to Agawam's success. "We're reducing costs while maintaining the coverage and services residents have come to expect," he said.

In an open letter to the City Council dated May 9, Cohen stated, "The fact that we will be able to avert layoffs and massive service cuts to municipal and school services within this budget is no small feat."

The mayor attributed the availability of Free Cash to the town's wise spending habits. "We're very careful with what we spend," he said, adding that this has resulted in a consistently strong bond rating for the town. He said that if the town goes to purchase an item and is able to get it on sale, the money is put into savings and not spent.

The budget proposed for the Police Department includes a $53,000 increase. According to Cohen, the money will provide tactical training that hasn't been conducted within the department since 2005.

"We must maintain public safety," Cohen stated. "The current culture — the recent shootings in Connecticut — dictates the need for such preparedness."

Cohen commended the Police, Fire and Emergency Management teams on a "superb job." He said that the Fire Department managed its overtime account so well during this fiscal year, that $20,000 was taken from the account to purchase new radio equipment a testament to careful spending.

The FY14 budget proposal seeks to add another $100,000 to the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) account to provide healthcare for future retirees from the town."It's important for us to offset any future liabilities," Cohen said. "Doing so helps the finances and the stability of retirees."

The mayor said that education remains a priority in Agawam, which is why he approved the School Department's budget request. "Education continues to be the largest portion of our budget at 53 percent," he added. "The budget enables us to continue the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program and to provide a school resource officer."

Cohen also projected that the budget would result in a tax decrease for the average homeowner.

The City Council is expected to vote on the budget at the June 17 meeting following the public hearing.

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