WILMINGTON — Town Manager Jeff Hull delivered the budget presentation for next year during the Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday night. He started by recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present challenges and appreciating the efforts of the Board of Health in that regard.
The four major categories of spending he shared were for the town’s school budget, shared costs, general government, and the Shawsheen Tech. He mentioned some increased costs from inflation for services like heating fuel and materials to treat roadways, long-term employees retiring, and costs to pay for WCTV and recycling and trash.
He also included three areas where they already cut costs in the proposed plan: $326,000 in health insurance, $350,000 in overtime for the fire department, and $50,000 in Veterans Services. The savings from the Veterans Services department would be more accurate, and he believed health insurance to have gone down due to COVID-19.
Areas of revenue would be new growth from things like equipment purchased and businesses changing their corporate status, several development projects nearing completion, and motor vehicle excise. He also expected local aid to be the same next year as it has been this year.
As he moved onto the school budget, Hull said that education is one of the most important service provisions offered by the town. The school budget would be going up by 2.5 percent for next year, for a total of $45,935,465. Proposed salary costs were increasing by $1 million. He called out additional costs of a special education teacher and extra resources for social-emotional learning while also noting that enrollment has continued to decline since 2007.
However, he reported that Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand is aware staffing hasn’t declined with enrollment, but they’ll look at staffing requirements going forward.
Together, the budget for Wilmington schools and the Shawsheen tech make up 40 percent of the town’s budget. For the Tech alone, which Hull called an “appealing alternative to the high school,” the cost for the town would increase by $527,000 next year. This, he explained, was mostly due to enrollment being anticipated to increase.
A challenge for the town this year has been holding and bringing in new personnel. Hull mentioned they’ve seen a lot of retirements and turnover. Combined with increases to minimum wage, it’s been hard to establish competitive salaries and retain employees.
He’s budgeted $60,000 to contract a grant writer and still seek a Planner/Economic Development Coordinator. They’re looking to add another patrol officer to the police department, fully fund eight firefighters from the SAFER Grant, and upgrade the part-time fire department clerk to full-time.
The funds for these items would come from three sources: the tax levy, free cash, and the capital stabilization fund.
“We took an effort to reduce the amount of money we’re looking to take from free cash and capital stabilization,” said Hull, “in part recognizing that we have some large projects on the horizon.”
These would be the new Wildwood School, the senior center, the town hall/school administration building, and a new fire substation.
Among proposed high-cost capital items would be upgrades to the communications system for backup radios, replacing one ambulance and two police cruisers, installing new public safety warning lights, replacing DPW trucks, and replacing the traffic lights at the intersection of Shawsheen Avenue, Hopkins Street, and Lake Street.
Some school-related items included the boilers at the Woburn Street School, replacing the roof of the Shawsheen Street School, and new projectors and PA systems at various schools. Hull also referenced the use of some American Rescue Plan Act funds for things like Woburn Street water main and cache basin replacements.
In total, these would take $750,000 from Chapter 90, $3 million from the tax levy, $1.2 million from free cash, $1 million from water, and $825,000 from capital stabilization.
Hull gave shoutouts to Assistant Town Manager Kerry Colburn-Dion and Finance Director Bryan Perry in addition to all of the department heads giving realistic budgets and making way for changes.
The full budget will go to the Finance Committee department by department and then Town Meeting for resident approval on April 30.
The board members didn’t delve into deep comments that night, but looked forward to participating in the Finance Committee meetings and asking all of their questions. Some concerns they brought up were the vacancies in the police department, the increase of the school budget given enrollment, and the overall increase of the town budget by 4.83 percent.