By Bill Kirk and Dustin Luca
---- — Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski introduced a new theme along with the new budget he presented to the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee Monday night.
“Using Andover’s strengths to ensure fiscal stability” is the philosophy of his proposed fiscal year 2015 budget, which will undergo rigorous review starting this weekend.
“It’s a rational budget with logic behind the numbers,” said Stapczynski, who sat down with The Townsman Monday to discuss his 24th straight budget submission since becoming town manager in 1991.
The budget was greeted with mixed reviews following Monday night’s meeting.
“There are some items in the budget I disagree with,” Selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli said, pointing to Stapczynski’s proposal to add six new positions to town departments.
“It’s increased head count and increased cost. We had focused on the town side trying to keep that down. I don’t want to see that reversed. That’s what adds to the costs in the short term and more importantly the long term.”
Finance Committee member Jon Stumpf applauded Stapczynski for using a debt analysis tool to keep spending down on big projects.
“The department heads ask for more, but it’s (Stapczynski’s) responsibility to prioritize things,” he said. “It’s living within our means. He did a good job of that.”
For fiscal year 2015, which runs from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015, the town manager is asking for a $164.6 million budget, which represents a $7 million — or 4.5 percent — increase over last year’s $157.6 million spending plan.
Among the highlights of the town manager’s proposal are:
Town departments need $36.5 million, up about $1.2 million, or 3.5 percent, from last year.
The School Department would get $71.3 million, up $2.4 million, or about 3.4 percent, under the town manager’s budget.
The School Department, meanwhile, has requested a $72.2 million budget, or 4.8 percent increase — a difference of nearly $1 million that needs to be worked out in negotiations, Stapczynski said.
The school district’s proposed budget includes 8.6 new, full-time-equivalent teaching positions, among them two positions to support the high school’s growing computer science and engineering programs. It also includes a revamping of an existing position to create a pre-kindergarten through grade five literacy coordinator.
Superintendent Marinel McGrath was expected to make her formal budget presentation to the School Committee this past Tuesday, Feb. 11. The school budget will be presented to the selectmen and Finance Committee next month.
Fixed costs/obligations totaling $26.4 million, an estimated 4.3 percent increase, much of which represents employee health insurance. The town is currently out to bid on health insurance carriers so that figure could decrease. Another variable is that retired teachers may be moved from a state-backed insurance plan to the town’s insurance plan, which could save $300,000 to $500,000.
An 8.3 percent increase for the water and sewer budgets, mostly for $300,000 in water system maintenance, bringing the budget, paid for through water and sewer fees, to $7 million.
Debt service increases of $1.9 million to a total of $14.9 million, a 14.4 percent hike, primarily due to repayment of the Bancroft School project loans.
Warrant articles are dropping 11.6 percent, from $3.8 million to $3.4 million. Stapczynski said the town is taking a break from tackling major projects. Next fiscal year, in 2016, however, several major projects may be on tap, including a municipal services/town yard, high school renovations and a plan for the aging Ballardvale Fire Station.
Six new employees would be hired on the town side of the ledger, which would return the staff size to about 357, which is what it was prior to the Great Recession in 2007. Stapczynski is proposing either new hires or converting existing, part-time employees into full-timers in the Elder Services, Youth Services, Information Technology, Municipal Services and Police departments.
He is seeking $146,500 to upgrade the Fire Department ambulance to an advanced lifesaving service and funds to purchase an upgraded 911 system.
In other highlights, Stapczynski is proposing to distribute free cash — an aggregate of surpluses left over at the end of previous budget cycles — by funneling $1 million toward the Other Post-Employments Benefits trust fund, $1 million into the Ledge Road landfill stabilization fund, and another $500,000 into the town’s stabilization fund, which is now at $7 million. He may also propose transferring $1.6 million into the retirement fund to help reduce the town’s unfunded pension liability.
Town officials will begin reviewing the budget this Saturday, Feb. 15, at 9 a.m. at Memorial Hall Library, third floor. The focus will be on town department budgets, including police, fire-rescue, general government, information technology and community development and planning.