By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The Finance Committee will look into sponsoring a Town Meeting article to change the positions of Town Clerk, Town Treasurer and Tax Collector from elected to appointed but despite a motion to that effect last night by FinCom member Daniel Sherman, most committee members said they weren’t ready to vote to do so without a more in-depth discussion.
FinCom member Philip McCarty said that it was an opportune time to move toward making those positions appointed in light of this week’s announcement that Town Clerk Mary K. Galvin will retire on June 30. He noted that one of the problems is that you can’t have a job description for an elected official and an elected official doesn’t report to the Town Administrator but to the voters.
Sherman said that in most towns those three positions are appointed, not elected. He said that those positions have become too technical to be decided by a “popularity contest.”
FinCom member William Boodry said that he would need a lot more information before making that decision and did not feel comfortable doing it last night.
FinCom member Wayne Tarr said that he would be more comfortable taking up each position as it became vacant when the incumbent decided to retire or not run for re-election, although there appeared to be agreement that the current occupants would serve out their elected terms before the positions became appointed.
One question that came up related to exactly who would appoint those three positions. Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio, who was present last night, said that it was a good question and recommended having Town Counsel Thomas Mullen come in to discuss the entire matter.
In the end, Sherman agreed to rescind his motion pending a more thorough discussion. The committee talked about which dates might be available to have Mullen come in while still leaving sufficient time to get an article on the warrant for Annual Town Meeting in May. Maio said that he would check with Mullen regarding his availability and relay that information to FinCom Chairman Gerard Leeman.
The FinCom also reviewed a number of FY 2016 departmental budgets last night, beginning with the Veterans Department. Town Accountant Kevin Gill went over the numbers with Director of Veterans Services Ryan McLane and Town Administrator Maio alongside.
Gill said that the budget was being increased by $1,515 to a total of $262,000. (Wakefield is part of a Veterans Service District that also includes Melrose and Saugus.)
Gill noted that $200,000 of the budget was for direct payment of Chapter 115 benefits to Wakefield veterans and their survivors. The state reimburses the town at a rate of 75 percent for these payments, Gill said.
Members of the FinCom asked if the budget was sufficient. Maio said that he was happy with the current level of funding. McLane said that with new Veterans Services Officer Alicia Reddin stepping up outreach a small increase in benefits may occur but he did not see it going very much higher in the short term.
Maio and McLane told the FinCom that the Veterans Department would be spearheading efforts to refurbish and maintain the town’s veterans’ memorials, beginning with the Civil War Monument on Veterans Memorial Common.
Gill presented the budget for the Health Department at $191,379. Health Director Ruth Clay as well as Board of Health members Laurel Gourville and Elaine Silva were on hand for the budget presentation. Wakefield shares costs for this department, including the salary of Health Director Clay, with the city of Melrose.
Gill said that under contracted services the professional services line item was decreased $6,584 due to Melrose picking up a larger share of the salaries.
In response to a FinCom question, Clay explained that the shift in was due to Reading leaving the district effective June 30, leaving just Wakefield and Melrose. She said that Melrose will now pick up 75 percent of her salary and Wakefield will pay 25 percent. Maio added that while less of Clay’s time is in Wakefield, other members of the staff are in Wakefield more and Clay is always available as needed.
Clay added that Melrose has more programs under the Health Department, including the Animal Inspector, which explains some of the reason for their larger share of costs. She also noted that two other employees of the department working in Wakefield are funded by grants, which don’t show up on the budget.
The FinCom also reviewed the $80,459 Recreation Department budget. Recreation Director Dan McGrath was on hand for the budget presentation.
Gill said that the budget was up $30,459, which was the result of having the recently hired McGrath’s salary on the books for the full FY 2016. Gill said that the expectation was that the salary would be offset by revenues generated by the department.
FinCom member Joseph Tringale, who also serves on the Recreation Commission, said that the town was lucky to have someone as talented and enthusiastic as McGrath on board.
McGrath handed out a draft brochure listing an extensive menu of programs planned. He added that the department would be hiring high school and college students this summer to run certain programs. They will be paid from revenues that the programs generate, he added.
Tarr said that he remembered some of the great recreation programs offered by the town in the past and was impressed by the programs that McGrath had planned.
“The Wakefield Recreation Program is back,” Tarr said.
The FinCom approved the $11,175 Planning Board budget with no discussion.