Select Board Begins Municipal Budget Review

Reading, MA — The Select Board opened the Fiscal Year 2024 budget season on Wednesday night by listening to budget request presentations from multiple departments, including public safety, public services, and public works. Each department head shared a review of their department’s activities and then presented a budget request to the board.

The first presenter was Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios with the public services department. Delios presented a level-funded budget through the use of grants, revolving and trust funds, and regionalization of some services. This department has 20.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) salaries and covers services such as development, planning, elder and human services, and veterans services. It is a department undergoing change as Delios will be retiring in February of 2023, and current Director of Administrative Services Matt Kraunelis is set to become the new Assistant Town Manager, overseeing both the Public Services and Administrative Services departments. Delios is requesting a total FY 2024 budget of $1,757,650, which is a $16,550 decrease over FY 2023.

Each board member thanked Delios for her service to the town as they asked questions regarding programming at the Pleasant Street Center, the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds, and recreational opportunities. Delios indicated that they are actively pursuing plans to offer a better way to provide lunches at the Pleasant Street Center as well as ways to eliminate fees for programs such as large group exercise classes.

Kraunelis shared that, with his new responsibilities, Information Technology will be moved out of Administrative Services and will become its own department. The Administrative Services department has 14 FTE and has salary increases based on the pay and class study “baked into the budget.” One part-time administrative assistant in the clerk’s office will become full-time through the elimination of a part-time operations position, which has been vacant for some time. There is a slight increase in property and casualty insurance rates as well as an increase in legal services, though there will be savings from the decrease in the number of elections from three to two in the coming year. Kraunellis is requesting a total budget of $2,662,255, which is a two percent decrease from FY 2023. The decrease is partially accomplished through the division of his salary between the Public Services and Administrative Services departments.

Technology Director Kevin Furilla presented the budget for the new Information Technology Services department. He is requesting $1,084,100 for FY 2024, a 7.98 percent increase from FY 2023. This increase is fueled by additional costs for software updates and supplies as well as salary increases from the reorganization and pay and class increases.

The Fire Department presented a level service budget with no added FTEs. Fire Chief Greg Burns explained that forty-eight of the fifty-one uniformed personnel in the department are currently assigned to emergency services, leaving only three whose duties are primarily administrative in nature. The department has responded to 1,840 non-EMS emergencies in 2022 through the middle of November, including fifty-four fires, three of which were considered serious fires. There have been 2,055 emergency medical responses thus far in 2022 as well. The department has conducted 937 fire safety inspections in 2022. Burns requested a $5,849,875 budget which is a 3.89 percent increase over FY 2023.

Burns also presented a plan he is developing to increase efficiency in supervision at emergency events through the removal of one supervisor each shift from service on a truck. If approved, this transition would be phased in over several years. Budget implications include an increase in salaries as well as the purchase of a new vehicle.

Police Chief David Clark oversees three areas of public safety, including the police department, dispatch services, and the Reading Coalition for Prevention and Support. The total budget request for these three areas is $7,466,825 representing a 4.41 percent increase over FY 2023. Clark noted that the Animal Control officer would be moved to the Health Department on July 1 to better reflect best practices from around the state.

Clark highlighted the coming acquisition of a K-9 unit which will aid the department with missing persons scenarios and other search efforts. Clark was complimentary of the new mental health clinician, who has already responded to over 200 calls since being hired in April. He also noted that the Coalition had hosted 115 prevention activities in 2022.

Adetokunbo Solarin, Health Director, shared that the office space being created for the Health Department and the Coalition in the Police Station is nearing completion and will soon be occupied. He presented a total budget of $434,125 for FY 2024, which is a 5.9 percent decrease from 2023. The reason for the decrease is the decision to reduce the nursing staff by one part-time position. This position was created at the height of the pandemic but is no longer needed. Solarin assured the board that should the need arise, funds are available to hire this position again.

Director of Public Works Jane Kinsella reported that there are sixty FTE in the public works department, plus five seasonal positions. There are currently three vacant positions in the department, with two of the three in the Forestry Division. Kinsella shared that for the past several years, the town budget has added approximately $400,000 a year to the $600,000 a year received from the state for road repair. Currently, Reading roads have a 78 PCI score out of a possible score of 100. Kinsella was unsure how this compared with other communities but noted that this ranking would decrease rapidly without the additional funds. Kinsella has requested a $4,057,300 budget for FY 2024, which is a 3.3 percent increase over FY 2023.

Kinsella also presented budget requests for the water, sewer, and stormwater divisions. It is noted that these budgets are funded through the enterprise funds, which come from usage fees, and not through the town’s general fund. The water budget for FY 2024 is $4,873,700, which is a 2.7 percent increase over FY 2023. The sewer budget is $6,517,800, a 2.8 percent increase, and the stormwater budget is $254,500, a 2.9 percent decrease from FY 2023.

The Select Board adjourned at 10:10pm and will continue its FY 2024 budget review on Tuesday, December 13, at 7:00pm.

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