By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — Eleven more FY 2024 town departmental budgets were approved by the Town Council last night, with the Veterans Services budget generating the most discussion.
Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio observed that the overall increase in the budgets presented last night was 0.28 percent over last year.
Town Accountant Kevin Gill presented the numbers for each budget.
Regarding the Veterans Services budget, he noted that the budget request had been reduced by $58,707 from last years total. He explained that the reduction came mainly from the line item used for direct payments to veterans and was based on the fact that in recent years, the amount paid out by the town in direct payments to eligible veterans and surviving spouses has not come close to the $170,000 budgeted last year.
Town Councilor Edward Dombroski disagreed with the cut, arguing that the town could do more outreach to veterans and families eligible for the benefits.
Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio said that more money could always be added at the fall Town Meeting if it turned out that the $110,000 left in that line item turned out to be insufficient. He said that he was comfortable with the recommended amount.
But Dombroski said that he wasn’t convinced that a more robust awareness campaign wasn’t needed. He maintained that there was a “tremendous need’ that was not being met.
Town Councilor Robert Vincent said that the Veterans Services Director and Veterans Services Officer have been very pro-active in terms of getting the word out to veterans and families about available benefits.
“I’m comfortable with the reduction,” he said.
But Dombroski said that he has spoken to many veterans who don’t know of all the benefits available to them. He maintained that better coordination between the Veterans Services Department and the town’s Communications Manager might be in order.
He noted that there’s no harm in keeping that number higher in case veterans are located or come forward. Anything not spent would just come back to the town.
Ultimately the vote was 6-1 to approve the Veterans services budget, with Dombroski opposing the budget because it included cuts to direct veterans’ benefits.
The 10 remaining budgets were approved with somewhat less discussion.
The Town Treasurer’s budget of $239,324 was approved with an increase of $5,407, which Gill said were all in the personal services line item for negotiated salary increases.
The $70,511 Fire Alarm budget was increased by $3,811.
The Emergency Management budget was increased by $1,676, all of which was in personal services for contractual salary increases. The total budget approved for Emergency services was $90,527.
The Inspectional Services (Building Department) budget was increased by $18,329, most of which was in personal services for negotiated salary increases. Gill noted that Inspectional Services is a revenue generating department, taking in over $1 million in the current fiscal year so far. The total amount approved for inspectional services was $457,107.
The Recreation Department saw its budget increased by $2,990 to $122,589. Gill said that the Recreation budget continues to be supported by program fees. Recreation Director Dan McGrath appeared at last night’s meeting to talk about some of the program offerings.
The Street Lights budget was approved at a level-funded $188,131.
The Historical Commission budget was also level-funded at $2,000.
The Unemployment budget was level funded and approved at $75,000. This budget is split at $25,000 for the town and $50,000 for the schools.
The Reserve Fund, which is used for emergencies and unforeseen expenses, was approved at a level-funded $400,000.
The Professional Medical budget was increased by $2,450 to $13,300. Gill explained that this budget is used for new town employee physicals, including police and Fire Department physical exams as well as for those holding CDL driver’s licenses.
All FY 2024 town departmental budgets are voted on by the Town Council and will also be scrutinized by the Finance Committee before they go to Annual Town Meeting in the spring for final approval.