By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — A very efficient 2015 Annual Town Meeting finished all of its business in one night, including approval of the School Department’s $34,847,085 budget.
An 11.4 percent increase in that budget was expected to draw some debate in the Galvin Middle School’s Veterans Memorial Auditorium last night. But the only discussion related to a failed attempt to reduce the increase by $1 million before the budget passed overwhelmingly.
Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Stephen Zrike discussed the School Department budget and defended the $3,558,357 increase. He explained the School Department’s priorities and strategic initiatives focusing on quality teaching, rigorous curriculum and individualized student learning.
Zrike talked about how the budget increase would address those priorities by investing in full-day tuition-free kindergarten, updated K-8 math curriculum and K-1 phonics curriculum, increased staffing and technology and appropriate special education funding.
Zrike maintained that next year’s increase “right-sizes the Wakefield Schools” by reinstating resources “that had been sorely lacking.”
The only discussion from the floor came after Spaulding Street’s Robert Mitchell identified himself as a “huge supporter” of the schools and then made a motion to amend the School Department budget by cutting it by $1 million. He said that he thought that proposed $3.5 million increase was “just too big of an ask this year.”
Daniel Lieber of Elm Street opposed Mitchell’s motion, calling the school budget “aggressive but not unreasonable.”
School Committee member Christopher Callanan said, “It makes no sense to randomly pick numbers out of the air.” He noted that there had been plenty of opportunity for input into the school budget.
William Bateman of Cedar Street called Mitchell’s motion “out of line.”
After Mitchell’s amendment was defeated overwhelmingly, there was no further discussion on the main motion and the School Department budget passed by a wide margin.
All other town departmental budgets included in Article 1 also passed easily, most with no discussion from the floor. Town Meeting approved $2,164,298 for “General Government,” including most Town Hall departments.
The $9,293,591 “Protection of Person and Property” budget passed, the bulk of which was the $4,633,285 Police Department budget and the $4,245,887 Fire Department budget.
The “Human Services” portion of the town budget was approved at $742,655, including the Council on Aging, the Health Department, the Recreation Department and the Veterans Department.
The $5,174,959 Department of Public Works budget was approved with no discussion from the floor, as were the self-supporting Water Department ($4,317,077) and Sewer Department ($7,246,937) budgets.
Town meeting also approved the $1,485,135 Library Department budget as well as the town’s share of the Northeast Vocational School budget of $1,106,883.
The “Unclassified” budget (including street lights, general insurance, Medicare and unemployment insurance) was approved at $1,571,965.
Town meeting approved the $15,213,679 “Benefits and Administration” budget, the greater parts of which were the Group Health and Life Insurance budget ($10,894,805) and the Retirement System budget of $3,805,843.
The total amount appropriated by Town Meeting for operating budgets was $83,164,264.
The only other significant discussion of the night related to Article 2, the requested $1,999,967 Capital Outlay budget. Capital Planning Committee Chairman Shaun Margerison presented the budget explaining that the total represented a prioritized budget pared down from $6 million requested.
The budget included replacing two police cruisers but Water Street’s Marc Luca wanted to know why the third cruiser requested by Chief Smith was not approved. Smith addressed Town Meeting and argued for replacing three cruisers every year.
Ultimately, Selectman Betsy Sheeran made a motion to amend Article 2 by adding $41,000 for a third police cruiser. Town Meeting approved both the amendment and the final $2,040,967 Capital Outlay budget.
Under Article 3, Town Meeting approved $4,251,929 for the Capital Projects/Debt Service Fund. There was no discussion from the floor.
Town Meeting voted under Article 4 to authorize the Board of Assessors to use $850,000 from the Wakefield Municipal Gas & Light Department when computing the FY 2016 tax rate.
Articles 5 and 6 related to collective bargaining agreements for the police officers and superior officers, respectively. Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio reviewed the financial terms of those agreements. Both contracts call for police to receive a 1.25 percent cost of living increase retroactive to July 1, 2014. Another 1.25 increase will be effective from Jan. 1, 2015.
Going forward, police will receive a 1.25 percent increase on July 1, 2015 and 1.5 percent increases on Jan. 1, 2016, July 1, 2016 and Jan. 1, 2017.
Town Meeting approved Articles 5 and 6 with no discussion from the floor.
Article 7, with the same salary increases for the Firefighters Union, was also passed with no discussion.
Article 8 was also approved, granting similar salary increases to unionized library employees in a contract running through June 30, 2018.
Under Article 9, Town Meeting approved a collective bargaining agreement with town Hall Clerical employees agreeing to the same aforementioned salary terms.
Article 10 was approved, implementing a one year contract through June 30, 2016 with Administrative, Supervisory and professional employees.
Town Meeting approved Article 11, with similar salary terms for DPW employees in a contract ending June 30, 2018.
Under Article 12, Town Meeting appropriated $25,000 to indemnify police officers and firefighters for injuries in the line of duty.
Under Article 13, Town Meeting voted to appropriate the $950,123.46 premium paid to the town upon the sale of bonds or notes issued for the Galvin Middle School project. The premium payment will be applied to the Galvin project.
Town Meeting authorized, under Article 14, the School Committee to enter into a five-year agreement for SPED transportation.
Under Article 15, Town Meeting agreed to transfer $150,000 from the Special Education Stabilization Fund to supplement the School Department budget.
Town meeting approved Article 16, appropriating $1 and granting the Board of Selectmen authority to accept or take by eminent domain conveyances or easements as needed to maintain drains, sewers water lines, etc.
Article 17 was approved appropriating $1,476,680 for the collection, disposal, recycling and composting of refuse. DPW Director Richard Stinson pointed out that the total was less than both the FY 2014 and the FY 2007 budgets. The savings, he said, was due to automated collection and single-stream recycling.
Under Article 18 Town Meeting approved $100,000 to fund the federally mandated the National Pollution Discharge and Elimination System budget.
Voters approved Article 19, appropriating $15,000 for shade trees and $20,000 under Article 20 for the public shade tree spraying program.
Town Meeting approved $200,000 under Article 21 for roadway improvements and $50,000 under Article 22 for new sidewalks.
Under Article 23, Town Meeting appropriated $5,650 to pay the annual rental for about 20 parking spaces behind alano as well as access to a town-owned lot.
Under Article 24, voters agreed to transfer $400,000 from the Water Surplus Reserve Account to fund the replacement of water mains throughout the town.
On a motion by Selectmen Chairman Brian Falvey Annual Town Meeting was dissolved at 10:03 p.m.
According to Temporary Town Clerk Rose Morgan, 203 voters were in Veterans Memorial Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. At 8 p.m., 293 were present. At 9 p.m., 319 voters were checked in and the total at 10 p.m. was 320.