Select Board, FinCom approve departmental expenses and budgets

The Finance Committee approved all town departments’ fiscal year 2024 reduced services budgets at its meeting Monday, including 23 that fall under the Select Board’s domain.

This came after the Select Board unanimously voted to approve all of the reduced services budgets from departments that fall under the board’s purview on Friday. The departments include the Police Department, Fire Department, and Building Inspection Department, among others.

Cuts across departments have been made in order to create a balanced budget for the town in response to an approaching deficit. The reduced services budgets are to go forward if a proposed $2.5 million override to maintain Marblehead’s current services does not pass through Town Election in June.

Police Chief Dennis King brought forward a reduced budget that is roughly $4.7 million in total. The cost of salaries takes up around $4.5 million of that number.

At Monday’s meeting, Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer said that the police department currently has two vacant positions and that as a result, funding was reduced for those positions.

The Police Department’s reduced budget has $196,773 in cuts. In order to make the cuts, overtime work would be reduced.

“Extra patrols, investigative overtime, training overtime, major events overtime, and the like, that will all be … part of the reductions,” King said. “That means that we still provide the service, but it might lessen the ability to do enhanced [work] in any of those areas I just identified.”

King said at the meeting that the department is one of the lowest in the region in terms of employees per capita at 1.6. However, he stated that residents shouldn’t be worried about the department being able to provide services despite being shorthanded.

“The citizens should be confident that we’re providing good service,” King said. “We’re not at levels that don’t produce service that allow to respond to calls, do investigative work, have an SRO (Student Resource Officer). We can do that.”

The Police Department would also delay equipment upgrades and purchases in order to reduce the budget.

Fire Chief Jason Gilliland presented a reduced budget to the Select Board that totaled around $5.2 million. The cost of salaries takes up approximately $4 million of that number.

The reduced budget for the Fire Department has $216,480 in cuts. Gilliland did not fill three open positions last year, so he cut the staff by three firefighters. He said that no layoffs were made, rather the positions were just never filled.

Finance Committee Chair Alec Goolsby said that cutting three positions out of 42 is “pretty significant” and he commended the Fire Department for being able to reduce costs at a challenging time.

“Again, in a very challenging financial year with our fiscal cliff being hit, the fire department has stepped up to do what they can, but we’ll see where things play out,” said Goolsby.

When asked if the department is meeting staffing standards, Gililand said that they are below ideal staffing levels, but he is still able to fully staff shifts by keeping overtime expenses.

“What the overtime does is give me flexibility because we run full staffing as 10 firefighters per shift, we can run it down to nine,” he said. “With the overtime I’m still going to run down to that minimum staff and be able to potentially keep Franklin Street open if something happens.”

“We’re not going to suffer because again, we will keep that staffing per shift where it should be,” Gililand added.

The Highway Department, Tree Department and Drain Department, collectively referred to as the Department of Public Works, had a total reduced services budget of around $1.8 million. The cost of salaries in that budget was $1.5 million.

According to Kezer, around $74,000 in cuts were made for this budget.

“The DPW is a disaster response agency, and then it has a heavy emphasis on townwide maintenance,” Director of Public Works Amy McHugh said.

To make the cuts, one heavy equipment operator will be cut.

“When you take that heavy equipment operator [out], that means when you look at the work we want to do, if we have a pavement group out, a sidewalk group out, a stormwater group out, a tree group out, that means one of those groups is not functioning because they’re short,” McHugh said.

The Select Board’s total reduced services budget is $770,445, with salaries coming in at $642,180.

The Engineering Department’s reduced services budget is around $204,000, with $193,685 for salaries.

Also included in the total Select Board budget were the Finance Department, Council on Aging, Harbors and Water Department, Building Inspection Department, Public Buildings Department, parking clerk, animal inspector, veterans’ agent, Memorial Day expenses, and other public employee benefits.

The reduced budgets for the Retirement Board, Water and Sewer funds, Harbor Enterprise, Health and Waste, Recreation and Parks, Library, and Town Clerk and elections were also passed unanimously.