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Wakefield budget lowest in five years

December 30, 2010
WAKEFIELD — The Wakefield selectmen and Budget Committee have put the finishing touches on the proposed 2011 town budget. The proposed $4,220,561 budget will be the lowest total budget in five years if approved by voters.

At a recent budget meeting, Budget Committee Chairman Howie Knight said both the town and school have done an "admirable job" in the budget presented this year. However he did caution that the cost cutting measures may end up costing more in the future. At the school budget hearing, members heard about several maintenance items that were delayed through the years that now are prompting urgent action including replacing floor tiles to remove asbestos, roof repairs and the need to replace all three boilers in the near future. Knight expressed concern that maintenance delayed now for other town-owned properties and roads in the interest of saving money and easing the present tax burden may end up costing the town in the long run.

Capital reserve article requests from the budget committee total $274,750 for 2011 including $105,000 for bridge construction and deposits into these savings accounts for future purchases of an ambulance, fire truck, highway truck, police cruiser when they are needed. Money is also set aside in reserve for milfoil remediation, cemetery maintenance, emergency management and technology improvements.

In aid to outside agencies, voters will be asked to give about 24 percent more for a total of $95,793. The increase is due mainly to $9,500 to paint the Greater Wakefield Resource Center and more money for Wakefield Meals. The Meals program provides 600 meals to Wakefield residents monthly at a requested budget of $9,000 for next year.

The Town Clerk's budget is down about 20 percent due mainly to fewer elections in 2010 and the related costs such as fewer ballots that need to be printed and less paid out to election workers.

By taking the now separate planning and zoning department budgets and combining them, selectmen project a cost savings of about six percent next year.

The percentage increase of 135 percent in the heritage commission budget jumps off the page but translates into $7,600 in this department's $13,191 total budget. The heritage commission is responsible for overseeing the town-owned historic buildings. The increase covers the cost of maintenance and consultation work on these buildings, mowing and a new furnace for the Union Railroad and Freight House.

Work will be done at the town hall annex building that currently houses the food pantry and recreation department. For installation of an overhead door, two steel doors and removal of an underground oil tank, selectmen are requesting $8,450 making the total budget for the building upkeep and utilities $20,610.

Town cemeteries will be maintained for a cost of $32,000, an increase of 10 percent. The extra money will be used to repair headstones, mowing, repairs to the water system and tree removal.

On to public safety, the proposed budget for police, fire and ambulance service including the public safety building maintenance and utilities as well as the full-time code enforcement department is up less than one percent for a total of $1,108,265.

The police department is requesting a slight increase in salaries and department supplies to include the purchase of a new Taser. The department's total budget request is $625,776.

The total ambulance budget is $190,847 with a minor increase in salary for the firefighter/emergency medical technicians (EMTs) that staff the station seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is also a reduction in the overtime line and an increase in the cost of ambulance billing services. As of Dec. 1 nearly $103,000 had been recouped by billing patients or their insurance companies for ambulance care.

The proposed fire department budget is $141,362. The on-call pay for members who sign up to cover overnight shifts has increased from $25 per night to $40. This change was instituted partway through 2010 and Chief Todd Nason said as a result there has been an increase in members who are willing to sign up for these on-call shifts.

The Code Enforcement Officer's salary is down slightly for 2011 while the clerk's salary is up slightly. But the major cost savings in this budget ($5,666) is the switch to using the town's staff car instead of paying out individual mileage reimbursement.

A public budget hearing will be held Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. at Wakefield Opera House.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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