Published in the June 2, 2016 edition


NORTH READING — The Selectmen voted unanimously to approve and recommend the fiscal 2017 budget that will be presented to voters for approval at the June 6 Town Meeting. The grand omnibus budget has three major components: Fixed Costs, General Government and Schools, totaling $63.6 million. The budget is balanced and represents “Level Services,” the board said.

When work began on the budget, said Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto, the main goals were to maintain critical financial reserves, maintain an affordable health insurance plan and continue conservative revenue assumptions going forward. In working with the Financial Planning Team, budget planners worked on a three year budget plan and some of the decisions made this year were influenced by also looking three years into the future, he said.

Fixed Costs are budgeted at $20.47 million, schools at $28.6 million and general government at $14.6 million. This is about a 66–34 split between school and general government operations.

Some of the major drivers in the Fiscal 2017 revenue plan, the T.A. said, are:

• The tax levy, $39.5 million.

• New growth in the tax base, $500,000.

• Debt Exclusion tied to multiple projects, including the middle and high school $6.3 million.

* Increases in state aid $1.7 million.

• $6.9 million in Chapter 70 funds.

• $243,000 in School Building Assistance reimbursement.

• $4.7 million in local tax receipts.

• $2.3 million in other financial sources.

Financial reserves

The town also has current cash reserves: $883,000 in Free Cash and $2 million in the Stabilization Fund. There’s $1.1 million in the Capital Stabilization Fund, $542,000 in the water infrastructure fund, $70,543 in solid waste stabilization, $179,000 in water enterprise retained earnings and $489,357 in the cell tower fund.

Some key expenditure drivers in the budget are:

• Health Insurance increase, $114,000

• Capital Improvements increase, $29,500

• Regional School Assessment increase, $74,599

• OPEB set aside increase, $125,000

• County Retirement Assessment increase, $215,000

• Increases reserves for abatements and exemptions $56,000 and retirements, $78,000.

By making changes in the health plan design for general government and school employees, the town saved $324,564 from the original budget projection.

Gilleberto said general government and the schools have gone through their three–year projections. “It’s safe to say that fiscal 2018 will bring challenges for us. We’ve tried to make our decisions based on those projections while trying to preserve services. It is fair to say the next six months will be a crucial time for the Financial Planning Team. It’s going to take quite an effort to put us in a comfortable position for fiscal 2018. There will be challenges next year.”

This budget is defined as “Level Services” because it’s designed to continue providing services that are currently available or to provide them in a more efficient manner. In the school department has three new positions, all for special education keep students in the district rather than opting for expensive out–of–town placements and general government has added a full time human resources administrator to fill an obvious need.

Most residents will be happy with at least one provision in this budget: all of the street lights in that were turned off in a money–saving move 20 years ago will be turned back on again, part of an Reading Municipal Light Department initiative to convert the street lamps to LEDs.

Selectman Michael Prisco thanked the department heads for their hard work and cooperation. “It was a challenge and all your hard work is much appreciated to help us get there. Fiscal 2018 and 2019 are going to be pretty challenging for us. We’re going to need everyone’s assistance.

There were a lot of key adjustments – up and down – made to the fiscal 2017 budget:

Budget decreases

• Community Planning Commission, purchase of services, $41,000

• Elder Services, miscellaneous capital, $2,000

• DPW personnel services, $107,000 contractual adjustments (related to the turnover in the department)

• DPW purchased supplies and services, $54,900. Of this, $18,000 is reduced in tree care, $10,000 for the DPW street lights, (see above), $3,600 in DPW administration, $8,500 in DPW machinery maintenance, $14,800 in DPW cemetery repairs and maintenance. This reflects actual expenditures.

Budget increases

• Information Technology, personnel services, $10,000

• Accounting, purchase of services, $5,400

• Youth Services, purchase of services, $300

• DPW storm water, purchase of services, $45,000

• DPW town buildings, $20,000 study to gauge the existing useful life of the septic systems for municipal buildings in the town center.

• Salary pool adjustment, $13,621

• Parks and Recreation subsidy increase, $10,148