WILMINGTON, MA — As local, state and federal governments continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated economic impacts, Town Manager Jeff Hull recently proposed a Fiscal Year 2022 Town Budget steeped in fiscal responsibility, while continuing to maintain town services, adequately fund public education, make targeted investments, and avoid layoffs.
“My goal entering into budget development for the coming fiscal year was to limit the increase in the budget presented to annual town meeting to no more than one percent as compared with the current budget,” explained Hull. “Given the ongoing upward expenditure pressures associated with wages, insurance and construction costs to name a few, attaining the goal presented a serious challenge. However, I am pleased to announce that due to the cooperative efforts from all departments and the commitment to find opportunities for saving, the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget increases 0.46% over the fiscal year 2021 annual town meeting authorization.”
The town’s operating expenditures for fiscal year 2022 (July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022) are budgeted at $119,852,135, representing an increase of $545,733. The 0.46% increase is significantly less than increases in excess of 4.0% in FY20 and 2.5% in FY21.
Wilmington is realizing savings in several areas, including a decline of nearly $500,000 in borrowing costs; $162,587 in trash and recycling costs; $106,000 in heating fuel costs; $98,580 due to the completion of the assessor’s property revaluation; $50,000 in legal fees; and $25,200 in streetlight expenses.
The increases in the budget, meanwhile, are driven by primarily personnel costs. Overtime costs at the Fire Department and Dispatch continue to present issues. Health insurance is budgeted for a 1% increase. The need to invest in technology and communications in response to COVID-19 has also led to significant increases in the Town’s IT budget.
Highlights of Hull’s budget presentation include:
- $1,093,520 (2.5%) increase to Wilmington Public Schools, most of which is for raises. No new staff is being added.
- $613,145 (12.81%) increase to Shawsheen Tech. Increase is enrollment driven with at least a 30-student increase anticipated over this year’s numbers.
- $300,000+ investment in technology at Wilmington Public Schools, including projectors, network switches, servers, and a computer lab replacement
- Town and school district are still waiting on the Massachusetts School Building Authority regarding the statement of intent submitted on town’s six older schools. Any school building project is likely at least seven years away.
- Only two new positions will be added — a new sergeant for the Police Department and a new relief custodian for the Public Buildings Department to cover new responsibilities (Yentile Park, former Arts Council that’s now used daily by the School Department, COVID tasks, etc.)
- Town-side technology improvements include the public safety dispatch center’s 3-year transition from analog to digital; new town-wide VOIP system; and ongoing server and computer replacement cycle.
- Public Works capital improvement projects include resurfacing of Frank Kelley Track; intersection signaling at Shawsheen/Lake/Hopkins and Salem/Woburn; reconstruction of Shawsheen Elementary School courts; and pipe cleaning at Brown’s Crossing Wellfield.
- The town will be using $2.252 million from free cash to fund some of these capital improvement projects.
- Town anticipates maintaining its AA+ bond rating from Standard & Poors.
“It was clear at the outset of developing the FY2022 budget that this coming year would be difficult. Many people remain out of work. Businesses in town are struggling to remain solvent. Many residents are restricted to their homes and desperate to avoid isolation from family and friends. The resources at the state level have been stretched to the limit,” said Hull. “My goals in drafting this budget were to limit the overall budget increase to no more than 1%, to avoid layoffs, to enable departments to continue to provide the programs and services residents have come to expect and to continue to invest in facilities, infrastructure and equipment. This budget proposal hits all the marks.”
Selectmen praised the Town Manager’s work.
“At first blush, I’m pleased at the budget. It hits on the priorities you enumerated. It holds the line with an increase that’s less than one half of one percent,” said Selectmen Chair Jonathan Eaton. “It will maintain the high level of service that Wilmington residents are used… There’s not a whole heck of a lot big ticket capital items, but circumstances require a conservative approach. Our ability to still invest in some of the long-term liabilities (retirement, OPEB, capital stabilization fund, etc.) is a testament not only to your historical budgeting, but to the the work of your team. I’m pleased we should be retaining the town’s workforce without any reductions. And we’re continuing to make improvements while planning for the long-term.”
“I, too, am very pleased to see that you took a very conservative approach to this with a 0.46% increase,” added Selectman Greg Bendel. “I am very appreciative of your investment in education, public safety and infrastructure. Taking this conservative approach, while maintaining all town services, will be appreciated by folks.”
“I echo their comments,” said Selectman Kevin Caira. “I want to thank you for keeping this to 0.46%. I congratulate you, your staff and your department heads for the work you put into this budget.”
“You kept the budget as tight as you could, which is appropriate given the times,” agreed Selectwoman Jomarie O’Mahony. “I appreciate all of your hard work. I encourage people to watch the Finance Committee Meetings on WCTV so you have a good idea of what’s really going on with the town finances. When I was a resident, before I was on this board, I used to bury my head. I would encourage residents to learn as much as we can and ask any questions you have so you’re not surprised come Town Meeting. We’re all in this together.”
The schedule for Finance Committee Meetings related to the FY2022 proposed budget is as follows:
- Tuesday, January 26 — Budget Overview & General Government (7pm)
- Thursday, January 28 — Planning & Conservation (7pm); Building Inspector/Board of Appeals (7:30pm); Board of Health (8pm)
- Tuesday, February 2 — Department of Public Works (7pm)
- Thursday, February 4 — Veterans Services (7pm); Elderly Services (7:30pm)
- Tuesday, February 9 — Public Buildings (7pm)
- Thursday, February 11 — Library (7pm); Recreation (7:30pm); Historical Commission (8pm)
- Tuesday, February 23 — Police Department (7pm); Public Safety Central Dispatch (8pm); Fire Department (8:30pm)
- Thursday, February 25 — Town Clerk (7pm); Information Technology (7:30pm)
- Tuesday, March 2 — Shawsheen Tech (7pm)
- Thursday, March 4 — Wilmington Public Schools (7pm)
These meetings will take place via Zoom and are open to the public. Agendas with Zoom links are posted on the town’s calendar at least 48 hours before each meeting. WCTV will rebroadcast meetings on their TV channels and on-demand at http://www.wctv.org.
The town’s 85-page proposed budget can be read HERE.
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