FinCom Reviews Municipal Budgets

Reading, MA — Discussion regarding two additional positions to the municipal budget drove most of the questions that the Finance Committee members (FinCom) had for department heads at Wednesday’s FinCom meeting. The Library, Administrative Services department, Public Services Department, Finance Department, and the Police and Fire Departments all presented their proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budgets to the committee.

The first new position under question is the proposed addition to the library of an Equity and Social Justice division with a staff person to oversee it. According to Library Director Amy Lannon, this will be a “programming and educational” position which has been developed over two years by an ad-hoc committee to look into the idea. The position would be similar in nature to the Director of the Reading Coalition for Prevention and Support. The new staff person would work to be proactive in Reading’s response to equity and social justice issues in town. Board of Library Trustees chair Nina Pennacchio stated that the new staff person “will allow the town departments to be on the same page” in addressing these issues. The position accounts for $70,000 of the library’s $1,931950 budget request from a budget perspective.

The other position that generated discussion is the proposal for a new Public Health director. If this position is created, it would separate the Health Department from Public Services and establish it under Public Safety. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur shared that the pandemic has highlighted the Health department’s close working relationship and the other Public Safety departments need to have. The Public Health Director would be the ninth department head in town government at a “round number” cost of $100,000 annually. The new Health Department would be housed in extra space at the police station.

Matt Kraunelis of the Administrative Services department presented a $3,302,500 budget request, a 1.7% increase over FY2021, with staffing to remain the same. Kraunelis highlighted a rise in technology issues as drivers for the budget in FY2022.

Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios presented a $1.6 million budget with an increase of 2.2% over FY2021. Delios referred to this as a “level-funded” budget. Town Accountant Sharon Angstrom shared a $953,600 proposed Finance department budget for FY2022, a 3% increase over FY2021. The primary driver of the increase is the restoration of a 32.5-hour accounting position to 37 hours that will allow for continued cross-training of employees in each other’s functions, creating redundancies in case of emergency.

Both Police Chief Dave Clark and Fire Chief Greg Burns presented their $12,932,825 FY2022 budget proposal for Public Safety, an increase of 3.8% over FY2021. One of the increased changes proposed in the police department is creating a new sergeant position to serve as a civil rights specialist. A promotion is likely to come from within the department with no increase in the total number of officers. Clark also requests additional professional development funds to increase training related to police reform and mental health issues.

Burns also shared that he anticipates a $35,000 budget shortfall in the FY2021 budget for overtime related to COVOD-19. He expects 75% to be reimbursable by federal and state resources.

FinCom will continue its budget discussions next Wednesday and will be expected to recommend a proposed municipal and school department budget to Town Meeting on March 17. FinCom adjourned at 9:00 pm.

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