Published in the May 3, 2016 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — It took three and a half hours, but 219 voters completed all of the business on last night’s Annual Town Meeting warrant, authorizing nearly $100 million in spending for FY 2017.
After the Finance Committee’s Daniel Sherman presented an overview of the town’s finances, Town Meeting moved right into Article 1, the town’s $89,062,787 operating budget.
Each section of the budget, as presented by Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio, was voted separately by Town Meeting, starting with $2,292,208 for General Government, which includes most Town Hall departments.
Pierce Avenue’s Kristen Henshaw proposed adding $7,500 to the $41,000 Election and Registration budget in order to provide meals for poll workers on election days as was once the practice. She argued that it was the least the town could do for some of its lowest paid workers.
But Maio said that the town’s polling places are not town-owned buildings and there had been complaints from those
venues about food cleanup. He said that when the town eliminated the meals it increased the worker’ pay. He said that poll workers were welcome to bring their own food on Election Day.
Voters rejected Henshaw’s amendment but passed the General Government portion of the budget.
Voters passed the $10,217,504 Protection of Persons and Property budget with no discussion, including $5,113,817 for Police and $4,672,416 for the Fire Department. Also included in this portion of the budget were Fire Alarm, Police Signals and Traffic Lights ($55,120), Emergency Management ($31,472), the Building Department ($254,624), Sealer of Weights and Measures ($6,000), Animal Inspector ($71,852) and Parking Clerk ($12,203).
There was also no discussion from the floor as Town meeting approved the $762,105 Human Services part of the budget, including $216,404 for the Council on Aging, $205,367 for the Health Department, $84,547 for the Recreation Department and $255,787 for the Veterans Department.
The $5,521,310 Department of Public Works budget also passed with no discussion from the floor. Similarly the $12,116,493 Water and Sewer enterprise budget was approved without discussion.
School Superintendent Dr. Kim Smith presented the $36,266,170 School Department budget.
Water Street’s Marc Luca asked about the areas of the budget supported by user fees. He advocated weaning those extracurricular programs off the extra fees with a goal of funding them through the regular School Department budget.
Laurie Hunt of Terrace Court asked why the “bus fees” line item went up from $60,000 to $90,000. School Department Business manager Michael Pfifferling explained that it was a combination of increased ridership and higher costs for busing.
Town Meeting passed the School Department budget.
The $1,562,651 Library Department budget passed with no discussion from the floor.
There was also no discussion as voters approved the $1,146,683 Vocational School budget.
The “Unclassified” portion of the budget was approved at $1,614,086, including such things as street lights, General insurance, Medicare and Unemployment Insurance.
The benefits and Administration section of the budget was approved at $15,705,963 with no discussion, including $11,090,363 for Group Health Insurance and $4,000,963 for Retirement.
Town Meeting approved various amounts from the Wakefield Municipal Gas & Light Department to town accounts to cover benefits for WMGLD employees.
Under Article 2 Capital Planning Committee chairman Shaun Margerison presented the $2,095,323 Capital Outlay budget. He highlighted several of the areas of spending such as two new police cruisers, several new DPW vehicles and upgrades to town-owned buildings.
Marc Luca advocated future spending in the capital budget to improve signage in the business district and enforce the sign bylaw. Town Meeting approved the Capital Outlay budget.
Under Article 3, Town Meeting approved $4,253,004 for the Debt Service Fund.
Voters also approved the $865,000 in lieu of taxes payment from the WMGLD under Article 4.
Voters approved the $30,420 needed to implement the one-year collective bargaining agreement between the town and the Municipal, Administrative and Supervisory Union.
Under Artricle 6, Town Meeting OK’d $100,000 for a study to look at what it would take to fix the deficiencies at the Public Safety Building. Several speakers expressed chagrin at spending money to fix a 13-year-old building. One deficiency is the fact that no one regularly mans the lobby of the facility, frustrating the public who need assistance. Another problem is a lack of space.
Former Public Safety Building Committee chairman Joseph Bertrand reminded voters that certain decisions, like placing dispatch on the second floor, were made at the request of the previous police chief.
Town Meeting also agreed to spend $50,000 for a study of space needs at the Walton School under Article 7.
Under Article 8, Town Meeting approved $10,000 to obtain Medicaid reimbursement for certain Special Education costs.
Voters agreed under Article 9 to supplement the current year’s Fire Department budget by $200,000.
Article 10 was approved for the transfer of $59,000 from Free Cash to supplement the Workers Compensation budget.
Voters approved Article 11, the routine annual request to allow the town to take easements as needed from time to time to make certain infrastructure improvements.
Under Article 12, Town meeting approved $1,515,000 for trash collection and recycling. There was some interest from the floor in increasing recycling curbside pickup to weekly but DPW Director Richard Stinson said that this was something that his department was constantly reevaluating and at this time it would not be cost effective.
Town Meeting approved $100,000 under Article 13 to implement the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination (NPDES) federal mandate.
Under Article 14, Town Meeting approved $200,000 to supplement the town’s Chapter 90 state funding for roadway improvements.
Another $50,000 was approved under Article 15 for new sidewalks.
Under Article 16, voters agreed to spend $5,650 to pay the rental for public parking spaces and access through the lot in the rear of alano in downtown Wakefield.
Voters approved $250,000 under Article 17 for upgrades to the water treatment plant on Broadway at Crystal Lake.
After some discussion, under Article 18 voters approved by a hand-counted vote of 111-5 a $251,415 betterment project for the Mount Pleasant Avenue and Everett Street private ways.
There were several questions from the floor on Article 19, which sought to update fees charged by the Building Department. After Building Inspector Jack Roberto answered the questions, voters overwhelmingly approved the changes.
Despite some questions from the floor, by a hand-counted vote of 101-2, Town Meeting approved Article 20, which sought to rezone a parcel at 592 North Ave. from the Single Residence District to the Business District.
According to temporary Town Clerk Rose Morgan, who was overseeing her last Town Meeting, there were 142 voters in attendance when Town Moderator William Carroll gaveled Annual Town Meeting open at 7 p.m. and a high of 219 had checked in at the last count at 10 p.m.