Annual budget calls for replacement of police cruisers
| By Carley Dangona
AGAWAM – The upcoming budget includes many contractual salary increases, but also a line item to replace eight police cruisers whose wear and tear prompted the requested.
The total proposed fiscal year 2015 (FY15) operating budget for the town is $90.94 million. In the resolution to accept the budget, Cohen has allowed up to $2 million of free cash to be used to offset any tax increases to residents, which would leave $4.6 million in the account. No layoffs were incurred.
“There are no hidden facts,” Mayor Richard Cohen told Reminder Publications. “I try to be clear and precise. This is one of the most important jobs of the mayor [to draft a budget] that meets the needs of the residents and businesses alike.”
Cohen noted he’s never raised taxes more than the 2½ percent threshold. He described the FY15 budget as “financially frugal” while maintaining the level of service the town offers to its residents. He added that the general funding debt is down 8 percent.
In his budget introduction letter to the City Council, Cohen wrote, “The fact that we were able to avert layoffs and massive service cuts to municipal and school services within this budget is no small feat. Everyone’s cooperation is needed in difficult times and is crucial in guiding our town through these fiscal challenges. However, continued cooperation is and will be needed as we move forward in order to minimize the impact of the economic recession on our taxpayers.”
The suggested amount for the School Department budget is $40.1 million, a $1.65 million dollar increase from last year. Cohen attributed the majority of the increase to contractual obligations for employees. He said it’s crucial for the town “to maintain the highest educational standards,” adding that the town’s graduation rate is 94.4 percent. He commented that the school budget is “not inflated with extras.”
The Law Department budget is listed as $137,300, which is a 13.19 percent increase from last year that anticipates the addition of a part-time paralegal. Cohen explained that the law clerk is no longer allowed to be compensated as an independent contractor per state law and that part of the salary increase from $11,000 to 27,000 is due to the increased minimum wage rate.
The listed budget for the Police Department is $5 million, a $489,000 increase from last year. Part of the increase is due to the need for up-to-date training and certification of personnel. According to Cohen, approximately $20,000 of the change is due to increase salaries and hourly rates. Providing a court officer represents $100,000 of the budget. An amount of $40,480 is designated to pay the company that maintains the department’s computer operating software at the station and in the cruisers.
Also included in the proposal is $238,700 to cover the cost of eight new cruisers that will be replaced with Ford Interceptor SUVs. The explanation sheet in the budget states, “These vehicles are operated 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, have mileage consistently over 120,000 and are in poor condition from a mechanical standpoint.”
Increases for the Information Technology and Treasure/Collector are due to employee contractual stipulations.