Published in the May 3, 2017 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — With relatively little fanfare, the 820 voters who filled the auditorium and cafeteria at the annual April Town Meeting passed an operating budget of $52,837,797 for Fiscal Year 2018.
All general government budget items and a school budget of $26,784,272 were included in this tally under Article 7, which passed by majority vote April 24.
A request by Katy Shea of Daventry Court to amend the DPW budget by adding $250,000 with a specific line item for road maintenance repairs and replacements failed after it was explained by Town Administrator Jim Boudreau that the town has increased this budget item significantly over the past several years.
Shea said she was making this request based on responses by townspeople on recent surveys that ongoing road maintenance remains a pressing need. She proposed that the town pay for this expense from Free Cash so as not to impact the taxpayers.
Boudreau said as much as he’d hate to say no to additional funds for paving projects, the town’s FY18 capital budget, which would be voted on under next Article 8, includes a line item of $500,000 earmarked for “road construction.” Boudreau added that these funds, coupled with the “nearly $500,000 in Chapter 90 funds” the town will receive from the state in FY18 and the short road construction season will give the DPW the funds for all of the road construction projects the staff can adequately handle in one season.
Furthermore, Boudreau said, taking $250,000 from Free Cash to balance the town’s operating budget “is not a good accounting principal for a town to follow… It is not a good budgeting practice to use Free Cash to balance your budget.” The voters agreed and did not spend the money.
Also included in the passage of this budget of $52.8M was the pay increase of 27 percent for Recreation Director Julie Mallett.
Bob McDonald of Nottingham Road asked “besides contractual obligations, how are the increases for salaries decided?”
Boudreau said her raise was based on the survey information presented to the Board of Selectmen by the Recreation Commission to bring her salary in line with surrounding towns of similar size as well as those towns which offer a similar level of programming.
Boudreau added that in the coming year a process for department head performance evaluations will be created upon which to base future salary increases. He stated that the general practice has been to offer non-union personnel the same percentage of salary increases awarded to union employees through collective bargaining, which has generally been 2.5 percent.
Kendall Inglese of Huckleberry Road asked why the line item for “professional services” under the Board of Selectmen’s budget was “so high” at $82,000 and what was its purpose.
Boudreau said these funds are used “technical services” as well as “routine expenses” such as the OPED audit and regular audit of the town’s finances.
Although no amendments were made to the School Department’s requested operating budget, Patricia Campbell of Patrice Lane pointed out that the format of the budget as presented in the Town Meeting warrant differs significantly between the level of detail provided for general government expenses and the lack of detail provided for school district expenses.
Campbell stated that voters can formally request to receive the detailed budget from the School Department, as she does every year, noting that it was 12 pages long for FY18. Campbell stated that these 12 pages should be made available to everyone by being published in the warrant itself.
Several voters were also interested in increasing the town’s recycling schedule to every week rather than every other week and at least one voter would like to see the town’s recycling center open more than just Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Finance Committee Chairman Jack Dahlstedt said they had looked into increasing the recycling pick ups last year but discovered that due to fluctuations in the demand for recycled materials, the town would have ended up paying more for its rubbish and recycling expenses, not less, if recycling was offered weekly.
New DPW Director John Tomasz stated that the level of usage of the recycling center is a factor in determining when it would be open and it would not make sense to add another day if only four or five residents ended up using it. Having been on the job for only five months, he carried through the existing practice in the FY18 budget, but added it is something that can be reevaluated to accommodate the needs of the town.
While the town does a “decent” job in maintaining or reducing its rubbish tonnage through recycling, it hasn’t been enough to “make an impact” on the budget, Tomasz said.
Capital budget passes
All of the requests included in the Town Administrator’s recommended capital budget for FY18 passed muster with the voters as well.
At $1,796,418, Boudreau said the town this was the second year that the town has taken “a very aggressive” approach to its capital expenses by “catching up on vehicle replacement and building maintenance and also $500,000 in road repairs.”
Bob Prosperi of Charing Cross agreed that it is a very aggressive budget. “I hope in the next few years we are less aggressive,” he said. Prosperi questioned the $200,000 expense for “DPW garage air quality improvements” as well as the bidding practices followed in determining the cost of such expenses.
Tomasz said the air quality improvement was the result of a complaint filed with the state Department of Public Health in March 2016 on the air quality in the old section of the garage. This section of the garage had not been replaced after the fire a few years ago. Based on that visit by the DPH, Tomasz said, “we had a consultant recommend what we can do to make it safe.”
Town Moderator Arthur Bourque said all town departments follow the state law on the bidding requirements.
Another resident stated that if all these requests were funded the town would be left with just $811,000 in Free Cash. She wanted to know if this would have a negative effect on the town’s bond rating. The town’s bond rating is currently AA+ and the selectmen have set a goal to raise it to AAA.
Dahlstedt said the rating agencies focus more on a town’s reserve funds “not necessarily Free Cash because they know you will spend it… We have a good rating and we will continue to maintain that rating.”