|By Chris Maza|
EAST LONGMEADOW East Longmeadow residents approved an operating budget of $55.2 million for fiscal year 2014 (FY14) at the Annual Town Meeting on May 20.
The budget number proposed by the Appropriations Committee and presented to the town by its chair, Russell Denver, represented an increase of $1.76 million over the FY13 budget.
Included in that increase was a bump in funding of $1.1 million for the School Department, a 4 percent raise, for a total school budget of $27.2 million.
The budget featured municipal staffing increases at a level of 6.1 full-time equivalents (FTE), including the addition of 1.7 FTE for education and 1.7 FTE for the Police Department.
Addressing the Police Department add-ons, Denver explained, "The Board of Selectmen voted to increase the police force by one officer and a records clerk for the detectives bureau."
He added that many of the staff additions had been on hold due to difficult budgeting climates in recent years.
"Some of these increases have been in front of the Appropriations Committee for three years and we have had numerous meetings with these departments about their needs," he said.
Resident Ronald Cutler questioned what the School Department's plans were for the use of the additional monies and whether the increase would affect the tax rate.
School Committee Chair Gregory Thompson said $832,855 of the additional funds were for increases in personnel expenses. The majority of those, roughly $709,000, were due to contractual obligations. An additional $240,763 would be used to offset rising operational costs.
Town Accountant Thomas Caliento said the total budget would require a tax increase. While he did not know the exact figure, he said the tax rate would be approximately $20. The previous rate was $18.62.
Denver also pointed out that the Appropriations Committee has been successful in their goal of reducing the amount of free cash used to balance the budget. In FY11, he explained, the town utilized $872,651 from the free cash account and that number increased to nearly $1 million in FY12. However in FY13, the committee was able to reduce that number to 500,000.
"This year, we're expecting to use $150,000," he said. "Our goal was originally $250,000, so we're doing better than we initially thought we would."
By next fiscal year, he said, the committee's hope was to completely eliminate the need for free cash.
Residents also approved the use of $1.7 million for capital projects, including $1 million from free cash.
Among the larges expenditures were $400,000 for an electrical upgrade to Meadowbrook School, $148,000 for a new dump truck for the Department of Public Works and $126,000 for the upgrade of the traffic lights at the intersection of Elm Street and Mapleshade Avenue.
When asked why replacement of the traffic signal was on the list, Board of Public Works Chair Daniel Burack explained that the system is 25 years old. The last time it broke, he said, it took nearly a year to fix because parts could not be located and the contractor the town uses for such work had taken to looking on the Internet for used parts to make repairs.
Residents also approved three public safety expenditures $55,800 for an SCBA Air Bottle Compressor and $46,836 for new command vehicle for the Fire Department and $70,000 for new police vehicles.
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