Published in the January 15, 2019 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The town budget season officially got underway last night as the Town Council reviewed and approved 18 FY 2020 departmental budgets. Fiscal Year 2020 begins July 1, 2019. All budgets are also scrutinized by the Finance Committee before going to Annual Town Meeting in the spring.
As has been customary for many years, Town Accountant Kevin Gill presented the breakdown of the numbers for each budget. Several town department heads along with Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio were on hand to answer any questions from the Town Council.
Maio said that the 18 budgets presented last night were a combined 0.6 percent higher than the previous year.
Gill began with Town Counsel Thomas Mullen’s Legal Department budget. Gill said that a $3,306 increase was recommended for a total budget request of $184,272. Gill said that some of the expenses in this budget include fees for labor attorneys and other experts.
The Town Council approved the Legal Department budget with no discussion.
Gill said that the Election Expense budget was $19,050 less than last year due to fewer elections in FY 2020. The Town Council approved the budget in the amount of $25,450.
The level-funded FY 2020 Finance Committee budget was approved at $7,060 with no discussion.
Gill said that Conservation Commission budget was up $1,111, all of which represented negotiated contractual salary increases for the two part-time employees that staff the Conservation Office at Town Hall. He noted that the budget was offset by wetland filing fees in the amount of $3,000. The Town Council approved the ConCom budget at $45,757.
The board also approved the level-funded Planning Board budget in the amount of $12,975. Gill explained that expenses included advertising as well as paying the clerk for hearings. Town Councilor Edward Dombroski questioned some of the office expenses, noting that the amount requested seemed higher than what was spent historically. Maio agreed that Dombroski’s point was valid but noted that any unspent money rolls back to the town at the end of the year.
The Town Council approved the level-funded Board of Appeals budget at $25,300 with no discussion.
Gill next presented the Fire Alarm/Traffic Signals budget. Fire Captain Randy Hudson, who runs that department, was on hand. Gill said that the $63,515 FY 2020 budget request reflected a $5,225 increase, which included increases in personal services and materials and supplies. Hudson answered questions related to the fees charged for master boxes at private businesses as well as emergency overrides at traffic signals.
The Town Council approved the Fire Alarm/Traffic Signals budget.
The Town Sealer budget was approved at a level-funded $6,000. Maio noted that this function has been contracted out to the state Division of Standards for several years.
The Animal Inspector’s budget was approved at $83,071, including a $2,266 increase in personal services for contractual salary increases. Gill said that the budget also included $1,200 for professional veterinary services and $3,000 to Saugus in dog pound fees.
The Parking Clerk’s $12,375 budget was approved, including a $100 increase for office supplies. The presentation of this budget led to a brief discussion of possible future changes in the way that parking enforcement is handled in the business districts.
The $245,272 Council on Aging budget, including an increase of $9,859, was approved after a brief discussion. Council on Aging Director Judy Luciano was on hand to answer questions.
Gill next presented the $105,946 Recreation Department budget, including an increase of $5,358, all of which was in the personal services line. Recreation Director Dan McGrath was present and responded to questions from the Town Council. It was noted that all Recreation Department programs are funded through program fees. McGrath said that investing in a wheelchair accessible recreational swing was a high priority for the department. The Town council approved the budget.
Veterans Services Director Karen Burke was on hand for the presentation of the Veterans Services budget. Gill said that the $245,508 budget reflected an increase of $1,033. Wakefield is part of ta district that also includes Melrose and Saugus. Gill said that the budget request included $170,000 in direct veterans benefits, of which the state reimburses about 75 percent. Burke said that the department regularly provides services to about 20-25 veterans in Wakefield. The budget was approved by the Town Council.
The Street Lights budget was approved at a level-funded $188,131. Gill said that there are approximately 2,300 street lights in town. There was a brief discussion related to the amount of savings realized by by the town due to the recent conversion to LED fixtures.
The board approved the level-funded Historical Commission budget at $2,000.
After a brief discussion, the Town Council approved the level-funded Unemployment budget at $75,000. Maio explained that $50,000 was for the School Department and $25,000 for the town side. Dombroski questioned whether the amount requested was higher than needed based on the town’s past experience.
The level-funded Reserve Fund budget was approved at $300,000.
The Professional Medical budget was approved at 10,850, including a $1,000 increase. This budget is used for physicals for newly hired town employees and mandated physicals for holders of CDL licenses.