Reading, MA — The Select Board continued with its second night of Fiscal Year 2022 budget presentations on December 15, featuring budget proposals from the Facilities, Public Services, and Public Safety departments. There was also discussion regarding the FY2022 capital expenditures budget.
Director of Facilities Joe Huggins presented a proposed budget of $3,227,224, a 4.97 percent increase over FY 2021. The most extensive parts of the requested increase come from the extra costs associated with the desire to continue using MERV-13 filters in all town buildings and schools after the COVID-19 crisis is over and repair and maintenance work to be done on the roofs of several town-owned buildings. Huggins shared that his department completed 2,806 work orders in the past year, 74 percent of which were handled in-house. He also said that his department “Completed more work while buildings were shut down. We were quite busy.”
Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios shared that she took Town Manager Robert LeLacheur’s charge for a “big ask” budget to heart when preparing the Public Services Budget presentation. The budget “ask” for FY 2022 includes a full-time Public Health Director and increased hours for the public health nurses totaling an additional $156,000. Delios also asked for a code enforcement official at $50,000 and an increase of $21,425 to bring a currently employed part-time program coordinator in the Recreation Department to full-time.
Part of Delios’s “big ask” also included $19,400 for additional clerking hours and 20,000 for economic development purposes, similar to the bistro tables purchased this spring to help local businesses adapt to the COVID-19 restrictions.
The Public Safety presentation began with Fire Chief Greg Burns presenting a budget of just over $5,679,000 for the 53 full-time equivalent personnel in the fire department and expenses. This number includes money to purchase turn-out equipment for three new firefighters hired to replace retirees. Burns also highlighted the $735,800 in grants the fire department has received over the last few years. He has submitted two requests totaling $657,000 to FEMA for COVID-19 expenditures reimbursement as well.
Police Chief Dave Clark submitted a budget request of $6,026,525, a 4.26% increase, 95 percent of which is personnel. He is requesting one promotion to sergeant for a civil rights officer as mandated by the state. The police department expense budget will be level-funded except for an additional 1.76% for continued de-escalation training.
Clark noted that calls for service are down this year over last, but there has been a dramatic increase in mental health calls. He also reported an increase in calls related to the fraud of various types, including unemployment fraud. This led Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado to encourage the inclusion of a psychiatric social worker in the department. Clark indicated that he was open to the idea. LeLacheur also stated that though Clark had not included the position in his budget request, it did not mean that it would not be included in his budget presented to the Finance Committee in January.
Budgets for dispatch and the Reading Coalition for Prevention and Support were also presented, with the Coalition’s expense budget increasing to $31,300 or 229%. This increase is due to a significant increase in the charge for the Interface Counseling Service.
LeLacheur concluded the budget presentations by stating that the roof for Parker Middle School, the stadium turf at the high school, performance contracting phase II, and downtown economic development had all been added to the capital plan as potential debt. A new ladder truck is also in the capital plan for 2022.
An increase of $500,000 to the capital expenditures budget for FY2022 resulted from the Finance Committee’s suggestion that an extra .5% be added to the 5% typically set aside for capital in the budget and be funded from free cash reserves.
LeLacheur concluded by asking the board to discuss their priorities at their next meeting as he begins the process of preparing his budget.
The Select Board adjourned at 10:30 pm.