BURLINGTON – Town Meeting supported the fiscal year 2020 Operating Budget of $143,758,021 during Monday night’s opening session at the Burlington High School’s Fogelberg Performing Arts Center.

The Operating Budget is made up of various town departments and their respective budgets for fiscal year 2020, which were all approved by Town Meeting.

Town Administrator Paul Sagarino, Jr. presented Town Meeting with the template used for the fiscal year 2020 budget goals, consisting of the following objectives:

The overall Operating Budget increase cannot be more than 3.5 percent (was 3.25 percent in fiscal year 2019); the tax levy (the amount of money raised through property taxes) cannot be greater than 4.5 percent (was 5 percent in fiscal year 2019); accommodated accounts cannot increase by more than 7 percent; and the ultimate goal is to maintain services at +/- 10 percent of budget (stabilization, free cash, excess, taxing capacity), avoid layoffs wherever possible; avoid overrides, and avoid user-fees (busing, trash, school athletics).

These guidelines were recommended and ratified by Ways & Means and the Board of Selectmen.

All the line items that made up the total town Operating Budget were revealed and almost all of the pricier budgets for fiscal year 2020 required further discussion, as they were “held” for that very purpose. However, all of the additional conversation that took place had little substance and ended up being situations where fundamental clarification was needed.

In the end, all the budget items that make up the $143,758,021 Operating Budget were approved by a clear majority. The fiscal year 2020 Operating Budget was up 4.27 percent from fiscal year 2019.

The costliest budgets

Local Education: $64,993,064 (up 4.25 percent); the priciest budget of them all saw a somewhat generous spike just over 4 percent, primarily due to a staffing increase. The additional staffing entails an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher, guidance counselor at Fox Hill Elementary School, and an adjustment counselor at Burlington High School. These requests are strictly tied to the demands and needs of students in the district.

Town Administrator/Board of Selectmen: $575,018 (down .59 percent)

Accounting: $376,361 (down .37 percent)

Assessors: $410,983 (up 1.21 percent)

Treasurer/Collector: $701,816 (down 2.68 percent)

Central Administration: $16,919,931 (up 3.4 percent); Chapter 32B – Health and other employee benefits continue to be a challenging component of the overall budget. The town has worked very closely with employee unions to monitor trends in health claims and review plan design changes to keep the cost increases to the program at a modest level with some success over the past several years. Past performance is no guarantee of future success and the Central Administration will continue to work diligently in tandem with its employees to contain costs wherever possible. This budget line item will require a 3.4 percent increase for fiscal year 2020. Transfer to Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) Trust Fund – This is the fifth year of providing funding within the operating budget to offset the Town’s OPEB liability. The increase is reflected by the funding plan adopted in fiscal year 2016. The biannual update to the Town’s actuarial plan is scheduled for the spring of 2019.

Management Information Systems (MIS): $628,204 (up 5.69 percent); this budget has been revamped to prepare the town for 4-to-5-year replacement cycles of desktops and laptops, along with robust backup and server solutions. Although a few years old, they continue to address the recommendations as presented through the Webb report and seek to address issues that have plagued information systems. They will continue to monitor these changes and assess, as they progress, what is needed to implement other aspects of the report.

Town Clerk: $378,790 (down 6.78 percent); the decrease is largely due to funding that was needed to conduct last year’s elections.

Police Department: $8,890,654 (up .12 percent); the budget focuses on personnel while trying to maintain the services that residents have come to expect. Full-time salaries will increase by .03 percent percent, which includes step and longevity increases, and holiday pay and other contractual incentives are also included under full-time salaries. The special accounts portion of the budget will increase by .72 percent. This is entirely due to an increase in required academy clothing along with a small increase for clothing of officers assigned to the Northeastern Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) RRT Unit. Overtime salaries will decrease by 3.37 percent this year after having been level funded the past three years. Traffic supervisor salaries are set to decrease by 2.53 percent, due to the retirement and replacement of one of the traffic supervisors. The materials and supplies account will surge 4.55 percent. The department currently has three tactical medical kits deployed in marked cruisers. This increase will allow the purchase of four to five additional kits to allow immediate access in the field. The occupancy account is expected to increase by 3.14 percent because of an increase in electricity, natural gas and internet connectivity. The capital outlay account will spike 4.27 percent primarily due to the increase in the costs of cruisers. Cruisers have been level funded for the past five years. The contracted services account will jump 11.68 percent, with the implementation of a detail tracking system. This system allows greater efficiency in scheduling and filling details, tracking and accounting of details, and most importantly collecting detail monies owed to the town.

Fire Department: $7,735,589 (up 1.91 percent); the concern on the operational side is maintaining pace with costs. Their budget is 92 percent salaries so any allowable increases are mostly absorbed by contractual obligations. On the capital side, the biggest concern is staying on schedule with replacement programs. They have 19 pieces of rolling stock (vehicles) as well as large quantities of personnel protective clothing and equipment. There are definitive timelines on replacement that need to be adhered to remain compliant. Any delay in this schedule has a detrimental effect on the capital plan as a whole.

Conservation: $252,128 (up 1.52 percent); stormwater and land management intern positions have been budgeted to perform work necessary to meet compliance of new federal mandates.

Building Department: $670,494 (down 1.79 percent); this department recoups more than 100 percent of its costs through building and permit fees. Over the last 15 years, this department has collected $31,034,396.00 in fees, which resulted in $3.1 billion in construction projects being permitted. The construction growth from 2014 through 2018 are the five (5) busiest years in history of the town. During this period, the department collected $15.2 million in fees which resulted in $1.526 billion in construction projects being permitted. The town’s cost to operate this department over that same 5-year period was approximately $2.84 million. The construction growth within the town has been steadily increasing over many years, as stated above the last five (5) years the growth has been incredible and this increased work load has been accomplished with no increase in the number of inspectors. For the future, the town has approved another $500 million in construction projects that haven’t been issued building permits. This is in additional amount to the norm of $100/$200 million in construction projects that they permit annually. Therefore, their budget recommends hiring one (1) additional full time Local Building Inspector to help in this work load and at the same time help the department transition to new staff (retirements) over the next couple of years.

Department of Public Works: $11,881,338 (up 2.48 percent); this department remains the largest on the town’s side, as is the case annually. It is comprised of six departments - Administration, Building and Cemetery, Engineering, Highway, Water/Sewer, and Water Treatment.

Board of Health: $626,042 (up .55 percent); the major budget drivers are an increase in total salaries (0.41 percent), expenses (3.17 percent increase in Contracted Services), and special accounts (2.13 percent in Mosquito Control). The total salaries line item is driven by a .71% increase in full time salaries due to contractual obligations and an 8.53 percent decrease in overtime. It was requested that, when budgeting overtime, departments base their budget on 56 current needs and expectations. In the past, the Board of Health has requested overtime funds should an emergency occur, such as a food borne illness outbreak. However, due to a request that overtime be based on current needs and expectations, overtime funds for emergency preparedness was removed. Contracted Services funding is utilized in areas such as consultant services for septic system plan review and installation inspections, if necessary; part-time contracted inspectors for swimming pool inspections; compliance check inspections for tobacco retailers; digital health department software; and, constable services. The Contracted Services increase is due to an increase in the cost of Digital Health Department, software that is used to conduct inspections of food service establishments. Other Total Expenses (materials and supplies, Capital Outlay, and MELT) were level funded. The Mosquito Control Special Account was increased by 2.13 percent, allowing for the same services as fiscal year 2019, which includes adult mosquito surveillance, larval mosquito survey and control, and seven nights of truck mounted aerosol applications.

Veterans Services: $244,097 (up 1.64 percent); the town is reimbursed 75 percent of the amount expended on Veterans Aid by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and 75 percent for the cemetery flags replace each year.

Youth and Family Services: $463,614 (up 2.28 percent)

Public Library: $1,584,631 (up 4.02 percent)

Recreation Director and Maintenance: $1,814,028 (up 2.93 percent); upon recommendation of the Recreation Commission, with approval from the Ways and Means Committee, commencing in fiscal year 2018 the Recreation Director and Recreation Maintenance budgets are being presented as 66 one consolidated budget. This change was proposed as a result of the prior decision to combine the oversight of both divisions under one Director of Parks & Recreation. The Parks & Recreation budget contains increases in part-time salaries, occupancy and MELT for fiscal year 2020. The increase in part-time salaries reflects an increase in seasonal staff with their Therapeutic Recreation programs, due to an increase in participation and the need for support services. The increase also reflects an increase in salaries for seasonal staff to comply with increases in minimum wage. There was an increase in MELT, which reflects an increase in fees for memberships to professional organizations, conferences, workshops and seminars.

Debt Service: $6,882,247 (up 8.03 percent); The town continues with its long-stated goal to increase the investment in its infrastructure through the capital borrowing. Bonds are issued to invest in equipment, facilities, and infrastructure that will serve the needs of the town for years to come. This schedule will require that the town fund the following amounts for debt service for fiscal year 2020: Principal $4,623,222 (+6.28 percent) and Interest $2,259,025 (+11.80 percent) for a combined total of $6,882,247 (+8.03 percent). Over the past several months, they have worked closely with elected officials, department heads, and financial advisors to develop a borrowing schedule that balances the needs of the departments as well as the impacts to the operating budget and the residents’ tax burden. The Debt Plan contemplates that over the next several years, the town will invest in some major projects, all of which are subject to Town Meeting approval.

Town Meeting ended up supporting all of the items that made up the $143,758,021 fiscal year 2020 Operating Budget for the town.

The body reconvenes tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Burlington High School’s Fogelberg Performing Arts Center.

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