By Kathryn Eident
Town Meeting members unanimously approved a $106 million operating budget that will maintain existing services and staffing levels in the next fiscal year Wednesday night.
The budget, which includes all town and school department salaries and expenses, will increase 5.3 percent over last year’s budget, according to Finance Committee Chairman David Escalante. The increase reflects both the $1.9 million override to fund the High Rock School’s opening and existing contractual agreements, he said.
“It’s pretty much the same budget you passed last May,” he told Town Meeting members. “It’s also known as the fiscal year 2009 redux.”
Balancing this year’s budget was not as big a task as anticipated, he said, because the total budget request was only slightly higher than the town’s revenue figure of $106 million.
“The budget was only over by a few hundred thousand,” he said. “We took the departments’ budgets, added them together, then adjusted.”
Finance Committee members were able to balance the budget by adding in items such as $64,000 in energy savings due to the replacement of town streetlights and deciding to wait on replacing a town vehicle, he said.
The budget does fund approximately $40,000 in new additions. For instance, the Finance Committee appropriated $3,000 to the Health Department to conduct tests on the town’s two new artificial fields, and approved the purchase of new mattresses and bureaus for the Fire Department, he said.
The only department to see cuts is the School Department, which will lose approximately two staff people next year, despite the fact that the budget was fully funded, Escalante said. School Committee members asked for approximately $45 million, an increase of 6 percent over last year, to essentially maintain existing services and staff and meet contractual obligations.
“The budget proposed here provides a thoughtful framework to meet the challenges of the coming year,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Daniel Matthews told members before the vote was taken. “We’ve steered a fairly steady course in an environment with a lot of variables we can’t control.”
In four nights of annual Town Meeting sessions, members have closed approximately 41 articles. Members will reconvene next Monday, May 18, to continue with the warrant.