Published December 12, 2018
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD – Wakefield is in good financial shape heading into FY 2020 budget preparations. That was the message from Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio as he provided the Town Council with a Fiscal Year 2020 budget preparation overview at Monday night’s meeting.
Soon after the start of the New Year, the town will begin preparing budgets for FY 2020, which begins on July 1, 2019.
Maio admitted that at this early date, there were still a lot of unknowns, including levels of state aid and new growth.
He started with the known quantities.
Maio noted that the town has $3 million in the Stabilization Fund. There is $6 million in Free cash and $300,000 in the Reserve Fund. Water and Sewer Reserve Funds total $1.6 million.
There is $14 million in the town’s OPEB account. OPEB stands for “other post-employment benefits” and pertains mainly to healthcare and life insurance for retired town employees. The OPEB fund is a way of pre-funding the town’s future obligations in that area.
It total, Maio said, the town has $24 million in reserves.
He noted that he has been talking about budget priorities with members of the Town Council as well as the public. Based on those conversations he presented a list of priorities. They include: public safety; the downtown improvement project approved by Town Meeting; roads, sidewalks and streetscapes; drainage; capital improvements; web site upgrades; recreation activities for all ages; sustainability and economic development; social awareness; tax relief and Lake Quannapowitt.
Maio noted that capital improvements include continuing to look at the needs at the Public Safety Building, DPW facilities and work on the town’s fields.
“Social awareness,” Maio explained, includes focusing on substance abuse and the work of the Human Rights Commission.
Another known quantity is the FY 2020 property tax levy, Maio said. By adding the allowable 2.5 percent to the current year’s figure, the tax levy for FY 2020 comes about $73 million. Another known amount is the $927,551 coming from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to pay bonds on past Woodville and Dolbeare building projects.
Maio said that he anticipates state aid (Chapter 70 and unrestricted local aid) going up 3-4 percent over last year to about $10,750,000 for FY 2020.
Maio projected local receipts at $6,850,000. These include local taxes (excise tax, local option meals tax, hotel tax) as well as fees the town collects like building permit fees. He said that these receipts can be very much dependent on the economy.
Maio projected $904,500 from the Wakefield Municipal Gas & Light Department in lieu of taxes.
Maio also anticipated using $2.4 million in Free Cash toward next year’s budget. He projected at least $1 million in new growth (from new construction and development) in FY 2020.
Maio said that the total anticipated revenue for 2020 was about $96 million.
Turning to the expense side, Maio estimated $65 million in operating budgets, of which about $41 million is the School Department budget. He looked at overall operating budgets going up about 4 percent.
Fixed costs (health insurance, etc.) were estimated at $21 million. Maio said that he anticipated health insurance costs through the GIC going up about 3 percent.
Maio expects $2 million to be spent on capital expenses in FY 2020. (A possible new roof for the Greenwood School could be a separate Town Meeting article.)
Maio projected Town Meeting articles at about $2.5 million (about half of that amount is for trash collection and recycling.)
The figure that Maio put forth for debt service was $3 million.
About $600,000 would be set aside for the Overlay Account, used to fund tax abatements, Maio said.
Maio estimated state and county assessments (MBTA, charter schools) at $650,000.
The total amount on the expenses side of the ledger also came to $96 million – the same as the projected revenues, but Maio stressed that it is very early and things can change. He noted that uncertain areas include state aid, health insurance, school priorities, local receipts, snow and ice, the Public safety Building and the impact of federal policies.
“We’re in good shape right now,” Maio said.
Town Councilor Edward Dombroski encouraged thinking of new growth revenue more in terms of how it could translate into benefits for taxpayers. He noted that taxpayers see the building boom but don’t necessarily see its benefits to them. He also said that encouraging more commercial development would bring to the town “more bang for the buck” and be less of a drain on town resources than housing developments.