Budget passes with few voters at Town Meeting
By Chris Mazachrism@thereminder.com
A small percentage of the town’s residents turned out for the Annual Town Meeting on May 19.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza
EAST LONGMEADOW – A small number of town residents voted to approve the town’s fiscal year 2015 (FY15) budget of $55 million at the Annual Town Meeting on May 19.
The budget represents a $1.5 million increase over FY14 and reflects a conscious effort by town departments to limit their individual budget requests to 1 percent, as recommended by the Appropriations Committee, its chair Russell Denver explained.
“It took real effort and planning for these departments to get within that 1 percent threshold,” Denver said. “The School Committee specifically struggled with some of this, but was able to get within the number that was recommended.”
Denver said the 1 percent directive did result in some changes and cuts to services that were funded in previous years.
Specifically, the Planning Office will only operate for half a day on Fridays, some additional police training not mandated by either state or federal statute will not take place and use of the Blackboard Connect reverse 911 notification system will be discontinued.
The School Department faces a number of cuts totaling nearly $450,000, including some to paid positions totaling $182,686. An elementary teaching position, a position within the gifted and talented program at the middle school level and two paraprofessional positions will be eliminated. A custodial position will also be cut back to part time, but it is anticipated that it would be reinstated as a full time position in FY16.
Residents also voted to approve $1.2 million in capital expenditures during the next fiscal year, the largest of which was a $375,529 appropriation for a technology maintenance project to be undertaken by the Information Technology (IT) Department.
Capital Planning Committee Chair Eric Madison explained the capital expenditure would provide upgrades to the computer systems and equipment utilized by the general government and the schools in order to prevent the need for a larger technology replacement project in the future.
When queried about the amount of money being utilized for IT, Madison said approximately $660,000 included in the FY15 budget was primarily for salaries and did not reflect any funding for equipment.
A pair of projects totaling $256,600 for Birchland Park Middle School were approved as well after some debate.
Residents questioned the need for a $217,900 expenditure for new siding for the school, as well as $38,700 for a new chiller system, asking why these systems were not warrantied.
Madison explained that the Capital Planning Committee had the same concerns and asked those questions before recommending the appropriations and that because of the age of the building, any warrantees have long since expired.
He said the exterior of the building was cracking, chipping and even falling off “in large chunks” and needed replacement. He also noted that Town Meeting last year approved a repair of the chiller system, however, when the work began, it was discovered the system was in worse condition than initially anticipated and would have to be replaced entirely.
The need for two new Ford Interceptor SUVs to be utilized as cruisers by the Police Department was also questioned by a number of people, including Selectman William Gorman. Madison explained the town has a system in which the department replaces two of its cruisers every year, estimating the average mileage of a retired cruiser at around 150,000 miles.
Residents also approved the creation of water and sewer enterprise funds that Board of Public Works Chair Daniel Burack explained would allow the water and sewer divisions to operate as if they were separate businesses and would no longer be funded through the town’s general fund budget.
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