May 9 2017

Town Meeting Approves Nearly $130 Million FY18 Operating Budget

By: Rich Hosford

Town Meeting spent most of the first night of the May session discussing and voting on the FY18 Operating Budget.

 

In the end the legislative body approved the proposed $129,908,536 but only after discussing a number of the various department budgets.

 

Before the discussion Town Administrator John Petrin outlined the approach taken to get to that number. He said the guidelines set at the beginning of the process were to bring forward a budget that showed less than a 3.75 percent increase over FY17. This budget, he said, was a 3.64 percent increase over the previous year.

 

This, he said, would allow the town to keep the total tax levy increase under 4 percent while at the same time keeping services, avoiding layoffs and maintaining the practice of no service fees.

 

While some of the department budgets were passed without discussion, 22 of them were “held” for further questions and sometimes debate.

 

A number of the department operating budgets were held by one Town Meeting member, Matt Frost of Precinct 3, who questioned any salary line-item that exceeded the 3.75 percent limit on the budget. Petrin said the salary increases were tied to previously negotiated and that the 3.75 percent limit was for the budget as a whole, not for each line item.

 

“We looked across the board,” he said. “Each department is not limited 3.75 percent. We looked at 3.75 as across the board and blend the entire budget to get there.”

 

There were some other department budgets that did have deeper discussions. Here are a couple of highlights:

 

Police

 

The Burlington Police Department proposed a $8,118,500 operating budget which came out to a 2.34 percent change.

 

Overall full-time salaries increased by 2.67 percent though a couple of positions, the Traffic Supervisor Salaries and the Animal Control Officer Salary, increased by 4.57 and 4.87 percent respectively.

 

When asked why those salaries rose so sharply, Chief Michael Kent said the increases were part of a negotiated settlement.

 

There were also questions about the conclusion stated in the budget description. It read “At an overall increase of 2.34%, this budget falls within guidelines. This is an underfunded budget. Of the 2.34% overall increase, only 08. Goes to increases in expenses. This underfunding is compounded by last year’s budget in which only 0.4 of the overall budget increase went towards these expenses. Despite this lack of budgetary funding, these expenses have continued to markedly rise annually.”

 

Kent said that conclusion was meant to get the point across that the department, due to inflation and small budget increases, is losing the funding necessary for continuous training and other necessities.

 

“My budget is almost always taken up by full-time salary,” he said. “Just with inflation along with the costs of training, it’s been tough keeping up with the cost of policing.

 

Kent added that training is essential both for the safety of the public and his officers but to ensure everyone on the force responds correctly to all situations.

 

“We do a lot of training but it’s just the way law enforcement is going,” he said. “Just look at the newspaper every day, you see officers doing something wrong or something that is perceived to be wrong. We don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish - if an officer makes a wrong choice and is found to be in the wrong, it’s just a matter of how many zeroes to write on the check.”

Kent was asked by a couple of Town Meeting members if he felt he needed more funds in this year’s budget. The chief said he could work with what was there for now, hinting at possibly asking for a bigger increase for the department in future years.

 

Board of Health

 

There was a lot of discussion emanating from the members of the Board of Health and Burlington’s Health Department during the meeting. The reason being is that the department was seeking a new full-time position to help it cope with the rising demand placed on it by a growing community.

 

The Board of Health gave a lengthy presentation on the department’s list of responsibilities. These include, but are not limited to, food checks at schools, restaurants stores, hotels and mobile vehicles as well as tobacco enforcement, trash compliance, public swimming pools checks and mosquito control. The department also handles decontamination efforts at contaminated sites and must investigate all building projects and businesses that handle hazardous materials. They also do emergency planning for things like fire, flooding and disease and epidemic outbreaks as well as sponsor the medical reserve corps. Finally they run programs like flu and pneumonia clinics, public health nursing and educational programs.

 

“With all that we do now, we are terribly understaffed,” longtime Board of Health member Edward Weiner said.

 

Department Director Susan Lumenello said the addition of an Associate Health Inspector would be a big help in handling the volume of work the department undertakes. She said one area they need assistance in is food service inspection because the growing number of restaurants in town has put a strain on the department.

 

“We are doing 50 more food inspections per year [over a few years ago],” she said. “And that’s not including re-inspections if violations have been found. An Associate Health Inspector can take on some of the burdens and that would help free up my time so I can concentrate on program review and administration.”

 

She added that having the new position would also allow the town to rely less on contractors, as it currently does. In the budget the Total Salaries line up went up 14.36 percent but the Expenses dropped by 46.68 percent compared to FY17 due to this fact.

 

Lumenello said there were other advantages to having a person in-house rather than by contract. These included the fact that the employee would be directly managed by the director, allowing for better oversight and that a full-time employee would be more likely to take more pride in their work.

“The new employee would also be available for emergencies while contract inspectors are not always available, aren’t close to town or work during day,” she said. “Also they would be trained specifically on Burlington. And it also allows for better communication - right now we have to call contract inspectors and might not get them right away and have to communicate through email.”

Town Meeting voted to approve the budget, as it did with all the others.


 

 
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