By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING — The town budget season is slowly coming into focus, with hearings on the individual department budgets scheduled to begin Saturday, Feb. 28.
Last week, the Selectmen got an update on the process and a clarification of how things will unfold between now and final adoption of a town spending plan in June.
Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto said the budget will include his recommendations to fit within the general government share of revenue assumptions made by the Financial Planning Team for fiscal year 2016.
The total revenue estimate for fiscal 2016 is $60,628,937, said Gilleberto and the share for general government operations will be $13,940,514 based on a 66–34 percent split of available revenue between the town and school department.
As of Feb. 6, the school department’s available appropriated revenue for fiscal 2016 is $27,060,998.
In addition to that there’s $60,000 proposed to be transferred from the Solid Waste Stabilization Fund.
Gilleberto said he appreciated the work of Finance Director Liz Rourke over the past six weeks and the various department heads in working with them.
Selectmen Chairman Robert Mauceri said he’s had the opportunity to read the budget cover letter and said the document has an interesting approach. “It’s a difficult budget year coming up. I congratulate the town administrator and his staff who have been working so hard to make everything fit.”
Gilleberto said town department heads were asked to submit budget requests in line with the following goals:
• Reducing costs
• Improving operations and delivery of service
• Creating a transparent budget document.
In addition to the goals set within each individual department budget, Gilleberto is proposing a number of program changes in the fiscal 2016 budget, including:
• Implementation of uniform cell phone and vehicle policies across all non–public safety departments. This proposal is currently estimated to reduce about $7,000 from existing cell phone and vehicle allowances.
• Transferring oversight of the Animal Control Officer functions to the police department and pursuit of potential regionalization.
• Developing a new model for oversight, maintenance and cleaning of town buildings to potentially share resources with the school department.
• Adding a financial analyst position in the Finance Division to serve as a point person on procurement and internal audit functions.
• Restructuring Information Technology to include GIS functions.
Gilleberto said the budget is predicated on the work of the Financial Planning Team over the past six months. Some highlights of the revenue and expenditure plan are:
• An increase in the property tax levy of 2.5 percent plus an estimated $405,000 in New Growth.
• Level funded state aid.
• A $15,000 increase in Local Receipts.
• A decrease in the town’s reliance on the Debt Service Stabilization Fund, from $550,000 to $250,000.
Expenses and fixed costs
• A transfer of $125,000 into the OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) Fund.
• An increase of health insurance costs estimated at 6 percent.
• An increase in the town’s Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational School assessment of $19,234.
The proposed budget addresses a number of objectives identified in the Selectmen’s Strategic Plan:
• Technology solutions, expansion and implementation. Information technology is proposed to include administration of GIS.
• Develop a plan to address the town’s long term unfunded liability: The $125,000 recommended in this budget would address about half the liability associated with new hires for fiscal 2016.
• Maintain management/labor relations. Human Resources is now identified as its own program in the Town Administrator’s budget and Gilleberto intends to increase the department’s presence. There is also a proposed increase in the employee recognition line item.
• Shared municipal/school services. Gilleberto and Superintendent of Schools Jon Bernard have discussed a potential proposal to combine facilities oversight to address projected needs for both town and schools. The fiscal 2016 town building budget includes a recommendation to fund a 0.8 FTE Facilities Superintendent and a 1.0 FTE laborer to perform daily maintenance functions. The facilities superintendent could be shared (0.2 FTE) as a deputy supervisor of buildings and grounds with the school department as deputy supervisor of buildings and grounds or stand alone for the town.
• Identify opportunities to team with surrounding towns on sharing resources. For example, Gilleberto is working on discussions with surrounding towns regarding shared Animal Control services.
Due to budget constraints, there are a number of department requests that could not be funded at this time:
• A $25,000 request from the Community Planning Commission for technical assistance for economic planning on Main Street. This could be a separate warrant article in June.
• A $23,000 request to incorporate public safety information technology information into the IT department’s new 0.6 FTE position. This could be offset by a state 911 grant.
• A $15,925 request for an engineering cooperative/student employee.
• $50,000 for merit salary/wage increases.