Budget roundtable hears successes and concerns
HAMPDEN – The Hampden Board of Selectmen (BOS) met jointly with the advisory board, city department heads and representatives from the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee (HWRSD) to discuss budget concerns and accomplishments for the first half of fiscal 2021.
BOS President Donald Davenport began the meeting by listing the city’s accomplishments since the start of FY21 in July. Achievements included savings through regionalization of dispatch with Wilbraham and sharing of health services with Longmeadow, Wilbraham and Monson. The city also settled the litigation with the school district, received funding for a crosswalk near Centennial Commons, and nearly completed work to mitigate groundwater contamination.
Looking ahead, Davenport said the city needs to think about how to use its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding and “not waste this opportunity.”
BOS member John Flynn said the roundtable was an opportunity for committees to discuss where they want to go next year. He pointed to the lower tax rate and the fairly uniform levy as positive aspects of the city’s financial situation.
Speaking about potential capital projects, BOS member Craig Rivest said that while attention is being drawn to the expansion of the senior center, fire station and road garage, the townhouse will have also need work soon.
Carol Fitzgerald, co-chair of the advisory board, highlighted the administrative projects she felt needed to be addressed. When developing the budget, she said, it is important that departments meet with the advisory board early on to prepare the budget before the city’s annual meeting in the spring, rather than waiting until “The week before” and look for firm budget numbers. the morning of the meeting.
Fitzgerald also wanted to define a line of succession within departments. She said that many departments are “dependent on the person” and things get difficult when that person is not available. Advisory is not immune to this, she said, adding that the loss of her administrative assistant had “crippled” the board.
Fitzgerald co-chair Doug Boyd has warned departments that the influx of federal aid funds will run out over the next two years. He said the city needs to think about the financial center of the capital projects mentioned by Rivest.
City treasurer Richard Patullo told those gathered that the city was in good financial health. “The cash flow situation is the best I have ever seen,” he said, adding that most of the debt has been paid off except for the police station. “We have done a good job positioning ourselves to move forward,” he said.
The only areas Patullo indicated as being of concern are investment plans and inflation. He also said the advisory board and BOS are expected to define an adjustment to the cost of living, an aspect of employee compensation that was added after the compensation study passed this spring.
Patullo also discussed the impact an 8 percent compound increase will have on the Hampden County regional pension system. These payments will continue to increase each year until 2027, when they will return to standard levels.
Another capital project that is in its early stages is the installation of a broadband fiber optic system throughout the city. Although it will take three to five years to complete, city administrator Bob Markel has said he will offer an Internet alternative to major cable companies.
The department heads shared their wish lists as well as their needs. Board of Health coordinator Jane Budynkiewicz asked that the two public health nurses continue to be funded. She also said compensation for transfer station workers needs to be looked at as some of them are only earning $ 0.50 more than minimum wage despite being employed by the city for years. .
At the Council on Aging (COA), director Rebecca Moriarty said most programs are reopening in person, and lunches to go are still 50 to 80 a day. The emergency fuel fund, which is funded by donations, was needed by residents during the pandemic and the balance is “low.”
An upcoming expense for the COA will be a new database. Moriarty said the one used is no longer supported and the software is required to generate and compile reports required by the state. The council is studying a program, “My Senior Center,” which is widely used statewide.
Despite the high cost of building materials, building inspector Wendel Hulbert said they have been “crazy with activity” since the start of the pandemic. “It’s hard to explain. The materials are expensive. The money is not expensive. Everyone wants to move to Hampden. He said he doesn’t see the trend changing in the next six months. Hulbert said the department doesn’t need more staff, it needs space to store construction plans and documents.
Highway Superintendent Mark Langone expressed concern about the time it takes to get supplies and parts for the machines. The drainage pipe that was ordered in the spring arrived in late November, he said as an example. The department bought additional parts for the vehicles when it could. He said if more than one vehicle broke down, the department would not be able to stay on top of road conditions and repairs. Davenport stressed that there is no “roadside assistance”.
Police Chief Scott Trombly has said he will need to hire two or three officers over the next three years as there are not enough hours for reserve officers to meet their training requirements. The Police Reform Bill that was enacted in January requires reserve officers who work part-time to have the same training as full-time officers. “All the small communities are in the same boat,” Trombly told boards.
Fire Chief Ed Poulin said his department’s expenses will include hiring a full-time firefighter and replacing the tires on the tanker, which will cost around $ 4,000. Aside from servicing and taking care of a few minor electrical issues on Engine 1, Poulin said the fire department was working fine.
HWRSD director of finance and operations Aaron Osbourne told the city the costs of substitute teachers are “of concern.” He explained that elective surgeries, such as knee replacements and back procedures, have been on hold during the height of the pandemic, but the backlog is now being planned. There are also early retirements for which the district has not yet budgeted.
In other staffing issues, paraprofessionals are hard to come by, Osborne said. Although the district does not incur the costs associated with their employment, he stressed, the needs of the students are not being met.
The school district’s budget is on track to be ready by the end of January, Osborne said. City valuation is an essential part of the overall budget, although the amount for which the city is responsible has declined in recent years.