Published in the March 30, 2016 edition


LYNNFIELD — A forum on the town’s proposed $50.4M operating budget and $2.3M capital improvement budget drew a respectable crowd at the joint public hearing of the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen March 23.

The hearing gave the public an opportunity to ask questions about proposed line items or to promote their position for or against particular expenses proposed in the FY ‘17 budget in advance of the annual Town Meeting on Monday, April 25. The budget process has been ongoing since the budget summit was held in early December. Negotiations and number crunching began in January on the budgets pitched by department heads to the town administrator, selectmen, FinCom and its various subcommittees.

Budget proposals totaling $51,098,071 for FY ‘17 were scaled back by Town Administrator Jim Boudreau to $50,404,959 while proposed capital expenditures from department heads totaling $3,319,087 were whittled back by Boudreau to $2,388,908, including $849,000 to be bonded to purchase a fire truck and three DPW trucks.

Boudreau’s proposed budget is balanced with no need to dip into the town’s Stabilization Fund. In fact, the budget adds $200,000 to both the Stabilization Fund and the Capital Maintenance Fund plus $200,000 for abatement exemptions and $275,000 for deficit accounts. He has proposed applying $1.1M from the town’s Free Cash account to pay down most of the remaining capital budget investments, which would leave the Free Cash account with a balance of $1,884,998.

While the selectmen voiced their support for the budget recommendations put forth by Boudreau at their regular meeting two nights earlier, FinCom Chairman Jack Dahlstedt explained that his board would take all comments under advisement and would vote its budget recommendations at their regular meeting Monday night (after press time). The recommendations of both board will be included in the Town Meeting warrant, which includes 32 articles this year.

Contract negotiation year

All existing union contracts are up for renewal in FY ‘17 as the current three-year contracts expire July 1 and contract negotiations are currently ongoing between union representatives and the town administrator on the general government side of the ledger and the unions and the superintendent for the schools.

Salaries were generally level funded in anticipation of negotiated pay raises. However, the FY ‘17 budget does allot $400,000 to the pay raise increase fund in anticipation of the salary increases that would come due in FY ‘17 as a result of any pay raises. Resident Patricia Campbell questioned why this line item had risen 821.5 percent over FY ‘16 when it totaled just $43,406.

Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford explained that the sharp increase is due to the fact that the percentage of the increase s throughout the budget compares FY ‘17 proposals to line items in the final FY ‘16 budget appropriations. Since contract negotiations were not a factor last year, this line item was comparatively small, but if it was compared to the final budget of three years ago, a similar temporary spike in this line item would seen. Next year and the following year any negotiated pay raises would go back to being part of each individual department’s operating budget.

Campbell also had numerous questions concerning the School Department budget, many of which were addressed at the School Committee meeting last Tuesday night. Among them was a comparison of Lynnfield with similar towns in the acquisition of grants to supplement educational expenses in which her research indicates Lynnfield obtains less than half the amount of grant monies districts such as Andover and North Reading obtain. She also voice concern over a request by the DPW to fund an additional school bus and other expenses related to busing students to and from school. DPW Director Andrew Lafferty said his department receives the requests for the buses and their maintenance from the School Department but does not have any involvement in the development of the bus routes, bus stops or determining the number of buses necessary.

The public works budget for FY ‘17 includes a level-funded expense of $180,000 for street lighting. Harry LeCours asked if the town has considered installing solar panels on the roofs of town buildings to offset such expenses.

Boudreau said the town had not done this yet, but this summer RMLD is supposed to evaluate the suitability of town buildings for solar panels. He thought the school buildings would be the most logical choice given the size of those roofs and the town could potentially factor such savings into its budget next year.

Under the proposed capital expense budget for the highway department, two of the three drainage improvement projects requested by the DPW were recommended for funding by Boudreau and supported by the selectmen. A request for $40,000 to fund culvert design and engineering services on Fletcher Road at Midland Road is recommended. Lafferty said this culvert has already failed.

An additional $80,000 requested by the DPW to engineer a solution for the Ledge Road drainage project, which currently washes out the road and also floods out the backyards of many abutting homes on Carpenter Road, has also been recommended by Boudreau.

However, despite the impassioned requests of homeowner James Pitzi of 30 Longbow Circle, who explained in detail the flooding issues he has experienced for 35 years in both his garage and finished basement as the repository for the excess runoff in his neighborhood, a capital expense of $140,000 was not recommended to be funded this year by Boudreau or the Selectmen. The water crests over a berm at the top of his driveway and rushes into the garage and basement. Over the years, in addition to clearing all the catch basins in his neighborhood of leaves and snow to keep extra water at bay Pitzi said he has had to replace flooring and Sheetrock in his home due to water damage multiple times and installed a French drain equipped with two sump pumps, but still cannot keep up with it the excess water.

Pitzi appealed to both the selectmen on March 21 and the FinCom March 23 for relief. Using an engineering report created for the town by Linden Engineering as reference, he said there was a suggestion for a possible solution that was less than $140,000 in which large underground culverts could potentially be installed in the roadway to hold back some of the water during certain storm events.

Crawford said making this investment would not be wise this year because it does not address the underlying problem, which is the fact that all of the pipes within this neighborhood are undersized, and fixing the situation would require a much more involved engineering solution.

Lafferty questioned whether the Linden proposal could provide the relief needed for Pitzi’s property. He explained that the three retention basins Linden suggested would need to be so large that it would basically require tearing up and repaving the entire intersection as well as needing to overlay the roadway to raise up the height for the runoff to actually make it into the basins. Drafting the plans and executing the installation would be more involved than suggested by the Linden report, Lafferty believes.

Selectman Tom Terranova suggested that some sort of an alternative solution needed to be looked into to provide relief for Pitzi, who he said has been suffering for far too long with this problem. Terranova added it may be cheaper in the long run for the town to provide some relief than potentially facing a lawsuit if more damage were to occur to his property and the town would still need to pay for a solution.

Extractor not included in budget

For the second year in a row, a request by the fire chief for a specialized washing machine called an extractor has not been funded in the capital budget.

Michael Walsh appealed to both boards to fund the $8,000 expense for the machine which would be used by the firefighters to wash potential and known carcinogens from their gear. Walsh noted that after Chief Tetreault’s request for a $10,000 machine was turned down last year he looked for less expensive alternative and was able to find a machine for $2,000 less.

Walsh added that the town has had only one line-of-duty fire death that he was aware of and it was directly attributed to cancer acquired by a firefighter who had fought a chemical blaze in Lynn many years earlier. Walsh said several firefighters who had fought that blaze had gotten the same type of deadly cancer. He believes that since the firefighters need to use their gear for many years they should be given the tools necessary to properly care for them and protect themselves from the carcinogens that can build up in their gear.