Wednesday, December 20 was the final night for the Board of Selectmen to receive municipal budget request presentations. Director of Public Works Jeffrey Zager presented the Fiscal Year 2019 budget request for his department. In total the Department of Public Works (DPW) requested to add $142,000 to its budget for added personnel. This represents one long-term seasonal employee in three of the divisions, one full-time administrative clerk to aid with payroll and other duties in the office and to restore an engineering position. According to Town Engineer Ryan Percival, the engineering division had to outsource some of the engineering load this year due to lack of staff. “Sometimes you have to spend money to save money.” Selectman John Halsey reflected. There was also a request to increase the Senior Administrative Assistant from thirty-seven and a half hours to forty hours weekly.
The DPW maintains all the town-owned parks, cemeteries, and infrastructure including roadways and water mains. The department also is responsible for maintenance for the over 130 vehicles owned by all town departments. Percival outlined capital improvement projects for the coming year. These include site improvements at Joshua Eaton Elementary School, water main cleaning and lining at Main Street and Mill Street and replacement of the Charles Street pump station.The town did about $1.2 million in road resurfacing in FY 2017. This is just short of the $1.3 Million needed annually to keep the roads at their current state of repair. Zager also reported that between 27 and 28 percent of the town’s total tonnage of waste was recycled, one the highest percentages in the state for a community that does not mandate a “pay-as-you-throw” program.
After the DPW presentation, Town Manager Robert LeLacheur offered a summary of all that had been shared over the four nights. In all, town departments are asking for a total increase of 20 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. Seven of these have been cut from the budget over the last couple of years. All of the remaining 13 have been requested every year. LeLacheur also commented that younger employees tend to value time off over additional pay and overtime, meaning that in the future, doing the same amount of work may require more employees. He also noted that to attract the best employees, Reading needs to stay competitive in pay and benefits.
In outlining his priorities in assembling the budget, LeLacheur referred to the “pillars” of what government needs to provide, three being security, education, and infrastructure. Keeping this is mind, “Not all FTEs are equal.” LeLacheur commented. “I also will not favor the old over the new.” In order to bring the FY 2019 budget into balance, $1.5 million needs to be cut from the municipal side. He also intimated that without additional revenues, the FY 2020 budget might feature massive cuts to services. LeLacheur will present his FY 2019 balanced budget to the selectmen at their January 9 meeting. He will also present a comprehensive list as to what was not included in the balanced budget and will include a priority list of add backs to the budget if a Proposition 2 1/2 override were to pass in the April 3, 2018 election.
The selectmen concluded with a discussion about the change in the budget process this year. The differences being starting a month earlier and presentation of the unbalanced budgets to the selectmen and to the voters. Chair John Arena stated that the changes were made in response to feedback from the selectmen’s survey comments about lack of transparency and information. Finance Committee member Mark Dockser wondered how many of the voters realized that a police officer and a firefighter were cut from the current year’s budget. The selectmen were in agreement that having the requests made by the department heads themselves made an impact. Selectman Barry Berman commented, “I learned a lot about how much we do as a town (government).” In discussing where to go from here Selectmen Andrew Friedmann counseled, “If additional funds are asked for in an override, (we need to share) what will the voters get?” The selectmen are scheduled to determine if an override will be on the April 3 ballot by January 30.
The meeting adjourned at 9:23pm.