WINCHESTER - As time ticks by and Winchester gets closer to spring Town Meeting in late April/early May, Town Manager Lisa Wong’s budget continues to take shape. As of now, she projects a $136.3M budget.
At the most recent Select Board meeting, she informed the board she would use the remaining amount of override money left, $1.7M. This will help cover the increases for the school department budget (projected to increase four percent) and the municipal budget (projected to increase 6.4 percent).
Some highlights of the town manager’s budget include hiring a sustainability director (using grant money to fund a portion of the position’s salary) and hiring a mental health clinician (whose funding will come out of the police department budget because he or she can respond to 911 calls and intervene when necessary).
Wong noted how the town clerk’s budget decreased for FY22 with the lack of elections when compared to 2020 (presidential primary election, town election, primary election for local races, and presidential general election). She also said union contracts, with market adjustments, will be incorporated into FY22.
Health insurance will increase as usual, this time by 4.9 percent (and that includes COVID-19 impacts), However, local COVID impacts for each department will appear as a separate line item at approximately $1M.
As for each department, the town manager said the building department’s budget includes $18,400 for software for the new e-permitting system (with setup costs funded by a grant); the fire department’s budget shifts funding from overtime to salaries in anticipation of up to six new hires to fill vacancies (Wong said the department actually has seven vacancies) thanks in part to the final year of a SAFER grant valued at $45,000; and the police department budget delays the hiring of a part-time dispatcher, but includes the purchase of one vehicle (instead of two).
Not only did Wong outline the FY22 budget, she showed a forecast for the next three years, up to FY25. In FY23, she predicts a $140M budget, in FY24, she predicts a $145M budget and in FY25, she predicts a $150M budget. The town manager also discussed the possibility of a $1.4M budget shortfall for FY23.
This means the town could ask residents to support another budget override in the next couple of years (FY24 or FY25, according to Select Board member Mariano Goluboff, who added the last budget override will last the town four or five years).
Town Comptroller Stacie Ward added how Free Cash could drop to as low as four percent over the next couple of fiscal years, well below the town’s policy that it remain between 6-10 percent of the general revenue. If the town uses Free Cash to reduce the potential $1.4M shortfall in FY23, Ward said the fund could tank.
The next steps pertaining to the budget include the Finance Committee’s review and approval and Town Meeting’s review and approval.