By Chris Maza
EAST LONGMEADOW – The Board of Selectmen recently met with department heads to discuss their needs heading into budget season.
Board of Selectmen Chair Paul Federici pointed out that a budgeting directive suggested by the Appropriations Committee for all departments was to cap increases at 1 percent. Department heads presented regular budgets and “wish lists.”
Recreation Director Colin Drury said his budget was all but completed with the lone issue left to tie into the figures was his salary, which he hoped to increase.
“Last year when we were in the budget season I had only been in the position for five months at the time and the board said they would like to wait until I completed my first year to talk about raises for last year and this upcoming fiscal year,” he said. “So I would like to sit down with the board and discus my salary so that my budget can be completed.
Federici suggested Drury come back to the board with his ideas on a proper salary increase, which the board would discuss in executive session and get back to him.
Carolyn Brennan, director of the Council on Aging (COA), presented a regular budget that fell within the 1 percent guideline, but had concerns about some of the cuts that would be required to fall within that directive.
“One of my biggest concerns is one of the things we’re really proud of is bringing up to a certain standard our health and wellness programs,” she said, explaining that the 1 percent would lead to cuts that would affect the amount of training the COA’s registered nurse receives.
Selectman Debra Boronski said she understood the difficulty of attempting to pare down a budget with these constraints, but called it a “good exercise to go through.” She said she especially appreciated the level of narrative Brennan included in her budget request and said it was her hope the town would not have to strip things down to the level that Brennan’s concerns would become reality.
Brennan also pointed out that in her budget, she asked for additional money to extend the COA clerk’s hours – from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. – by an additional hour in the morning and another in the evening. She explained that those from other areas in the senior center, such as social services and health services who normally could fill in when a clerk wasn’t available to field calls were not able to do that anymore because of the increase in programming.
“It’s something we’ve known we’ve needed, but now we’re really feeling the impact more recently,” she said.
Information Technology Director Ryan Quimby said his budget fell within the 1 percent directive, but in order to do so, he had to remove the maintenance contract for the Blackboard Connect reverse-911 service, meaning as of July 1, the contract would not be renewed.
“That’s what a lot of the departments use to make town wide phone calls and we use it a lot in case of emergency,” he said. “In order to meet the budget guidelines, I had to cut it to make all the pieces fit.”
He added that that the Fire Department’s software changeover and changes to the town’s geographic information system helped save money and brought his department in line with the budget instructions.
Police Chief Douglas Mellis said while his budget fell within the guidelines, he hoped to be able to add funding for training.
“We have a state mandate for 40 hours of which there is no funding from the state to do it,” he said. “We thought we had a case going with the inspector general’s office and the state auditors, but they kind of suggested they weren’t going to fight that battle.”
The trainings, Mellis said, would revolve around legal updates and defensive tactics. He added because officers are emergency 911 call takers, they are also mandated to take refresher courses, however, much of that cost is covered by state grants.
He said he would also like to be able to improve upon the department’s drug detection and investigation activities.
“There’s a lot going on in town and if we can try stay on top of it and nip it in the bud, it’s going to be kudos to us,” he said, explaining the major hurdle has been covering shifts in order to properly train officers.
Town Clerk/Collector/Treasurer Thomas Florence said he budgeted for four elections – the local preliminary and final elections and the state primary and final elections. The fact that the town would likely have fewer elections than it had the year before would help save the department money.
“I was able to reduce that by more than $5,000,” he said.
On the treasurer’s side of his duties, he said there were contractual increases for his employees and himself and he had included the promotion of the assistant treasurer.
“I think it’s well justified to get him up to a comparable grade level,” he noted.
In order to absorb those increases, Florence said planned to reduce his office’s operations on Fridays, closing it to the public at noon, for a period of two to three months.
“It’s such a fixed budget, the only place we can get a reduction like that is in services,” he said.