By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The Town Council this week approved next year’s proposed Department of Public Works budget, including a 3.5 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The FY 2024 budget numbers were presented by Town Accountant Kevin Gill, with DPW Director Joseph Conway and Business Manager Ann Waitt alongside to provide details.
The tax levy-funded budget of $6,979,569 includes an increase of $236,439, Gill said. The largest part of that increase was in personal services for negotiated contractual salary increases. Another $20,000 of the increase was related to computer software. Electricity and natural gas for heating buildings accounted for $21,585 of the increase. Another $9,170 was related to increases in motor vehicle fuel costs.
The Water and Sewer Divisions are enterprise departments and those budgets are not funded through the tax levy.
The total amount requested for the Water Division was $7,229,715, including an increase of $1,025,221. A hike in the MWRA’s assessment accounts for $718,773 of the increase. It was noted that the MWRA Water assessment represents 46.28% of the Water Division budget.
The $9,344,988 Sewer Division budget includes a total increase of $196,289 over the current year. Of that increase, a hike in the MWRA assessment counts for $25,818. The total MWRA sewer assessment represents 74 percent of the Sewer Division budget.
The Town Council voted 6-0 to approve the DPW budget requests for 2024.
The Council also approved the Refuse and Recycling budget at $2,370,747.
The FY 2024 appropriation request for snow and ice removal was level approved at a total of $850,000 for FY 2024. It was noted that snow and ice removal for an average winter season is estimated to cost $1,927,456.
The other budget approved at this week’s meeting was the Town Council’s own budget. At an earlier meeting, the board had deferred voting on its own budget pending decisions on retaining the Town Hall greeters and restoring a Town Planner position.
As initially presented Monday, the $497,320 Town Council budget reflected a reduction of $15,272 as the Town Hall greeters are phased out. (At their Feb. 13 meeting, board members questioned the need for the greeters, who were added during COVID as a contact-tracing measure.)
After a lengthy discussion this week, the Town Council budget was approved with an additional $100,000 for a new “Director of Strategic Growth and Development” position, which was characterized as more than just a town planner.
Councilor Anne Danehy was a big advocate for adding the new position, arguing that it was “not a big ask.” She said that no town job description specifically addresses housing. She also claimed that the town was missing out on grant opportunities by not having a town planner position.
Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio was skeptical of the move to add the new position at this time, saying that a lot of the relevant work was currently being done by other departments. He cautioned that people should be careful when they hear about other communities that have large planning departments, noting that the job descriptions and comparisons are not always equal.
In the end, the board approved the amended Town Council budget with the $100,000 added for a new planning position.