$236 Million Proposed Budget Adds Police, Addresses School Security
The proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget would increase the average homeowner's tax bill by $148.
Seven new police officers, $250,000 for school security and funds to aid economic development efforts were among the highlights of a proposed $236 million budget presented to Selectmen Tuesday night.
Town Manager Bob Halpin said the spending plan for fiscal year 2014, his first budget since being hired in mid-2012, funds the majority of departments at a level service rate while allowing for "strategic investments" in key areas.
"We have the opportunity for the first time in many years to address some important areas," Halpin said.
The budget plan represents an increase of $8.4 million, or 3.7 percent above the current fiscal year.
Though assessment figures are not finalized, Framingham Chief Financial Officer Mary Ellen Kelley said the average homeowner's tax bill would increase $148.
A budget with no tax increase would require cutting $3.4 million from this year's spending levels, said Kelley.
A significant part of the new spending comes from a sharp reduction in funds being earmarked for the stabilization fund. The budget diverts less than $600,000 to stabilization, a drop of $1.6 million.
"This keeps us at the 5 percent target we have agreed we need to meet," Kelley said.
Several assumptions underpin the budget, including a healthy increase of nearly 12 percent in Chapter 70 education funding from the state, she added.
Several areas Halpin said the town has identified as strategic areas for investment are targeted with spending above level-service rates, including downtown, education, technology, recreation and culture, economic development and transportation and traffic.
Key elements of the budget include:
- The hiring of 7 additional police officers at a cost of $382,000, one of whom would be assigned full-time to Framingham High School as a resource officer. Kelley said the police department would still be well below nationally recognized staffing levels given Framingham's population.
- A $250,000 set-aside to implement school and town security improvements. The funding will be sought outside the main budget, enabling funds to be spend over more than one year if necessary and will cover training as well as physical changes.
- The addition of a Fire Protection Engineer ($72,000) and an additional inspector ($70,000) at the fire department. Kelley said inspections are currently conducted by sending a full fire engine crew. "This will allow us to send an inspector in a sedan," she said.
- The addition of a Director of Transportation Engineering position in the Department of Public Works ($80,000) and a maintenance employee ($38,000) who would be designated to work in the downtown area. Funding is also included for an additional hazardous waste collection day.
- Expanded hours at the public libraries, with Sunday openings that coincide with the school year; a deputy director position in the department of Parks & Recreation ($87,000) and expanded hours for the Council on Aging's activities manager.
- $1.2 million in funding above level service rates for the school department to allow for what Halpin called "district improvement."
- A revamped technology services department with a Webmaster ($74,000) and a network technician ($57,000).
- Earmarking of $110,000 in rooms and meals tax revenue for the Economic Development industrial Corporation to advance efforts to attract development to town.
- A 6.3 percent increase in health insurance costs, to $35 million, which assumes no change in plan design for municipal employees; and a 12 percent increase in liability insurance costs, to $1.27 million.
Selectmen did not take a formal position on the budget.
Several Selectmen said they hope that any additional revenue beyond that already assumed would be used to reduce residents' tax bills.
But Selectmen also expressed relief to see some areas of the budget starting to be rebuilt after severe cuts several years ago that have yet to be fully restored.
"I don't know if a budget can be called exciting," said Selectman Laurie Lee. "But it is exciting to be targeting areas we have been talking about doing more in for several years."
Selectman Dennis Giombetti said the added police and code-enforcement staffing will help improve quality of life in town, while acknowledging that more work remains. "This is a great, great first step," he said.