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Summit Informally Kicks Off Budget Process

Town officials and department heads met Wednesday night for annual budget summit.

Town department heads were warned at Wednesday night's budget summit to once again prepare for a tight year as they draft their budget needs for the coming fiscal year.

Speaking to the gathering at the Lynnfield Senior Center, Town Administrator Bill Gustus said the coming year offers something of a mixed bag from a budget standpoint.

The town does not expect any proposition 2 1/2 override votes in the next fiscal year, and growth from some new developments could bring in as much as $300,000 in added revenues.

"We're going to catch a major break on our health insurance bills," said Gustus, referring to the deal between the town and its workers last year that helped avoid numerous layoffs and other cuts.

In the longer term, the Meadow Walk project is expected to start delivering its own revenue benefits one or two fiscal years down the road.

While the Meadow Walk project will bring in new revenues, it was also noted that this development will also require additional police and fire resources in town - and this is a more pressing matter than some may realize because of the amounts of time needed to get new safety personnel properly trained.

Gustus also warned that over the next couple of years, mandatory federal spending cuts brought on by the failure of the deficit commission to reach a deal could begin to be felt at the state, and from there, the local level. At this point, he added that the biggest question is whether the state will adequately prepare for this scenario. Overall, amid signs of a somewhat improving economy, he was hopeful that local aid will at least be level-funded in the coming year by the state.

Regarding local revenue receipts, Gustus reported that they are "at least as good as they have been over the last couple of years." In total, the town could see as much as a 4 percent increase in revenue in the new fiscal year, but Gustus emphasized that for operational purposes, that figure should actually be considered closer to 2.5 percent.

"We'll try to maintain what we've built... but any meaningful expansion of program is going to be difficult," said Gustus.

The various department heads gave previews of their respective budget needs for the coming year. For example, Police Chief David Breen noted that the town could very much benefit from having a full-time detective, especially in light of the coming Meadow Walk project. He also cited the advancing age of some of the department's vehicles, while Fire Chief Tom Bogart also concurred that Market Street is likely to increase service calls in town.

Library Director Nancy Ryan indicated that her main budgetary goal this year, like last year, will be to get back funding for the assistant director position. Veterans Officer Nick Secatore was also among the directors citing a generally difficult budget climate - and in his case he noted that the state actually reimburses towns for much of their veterans expenditures.

At the DPW, Director Dennis Roy noted that workers have been taking advantage of the recent warm weather to get ahead on some projects, but also noted that more vehicle repairs than anticipated are needed. The town also has claims in for federal assistance from Hurricane Irene and the winter storm around Halloween that could also affect the bottom line. Roy also noted that the expansion project at the high school will generate the need for a new half-time custodian position, and he also expressed interest in resuming the sidewalk renovation program, creating an athletic fields master plan, and restoring funds for part time custodians at the library and senior center.

In the assessor's department, Dave Nelson cited the need for a full-time assessor position.

The Lynnfield Senior Center was especially urgent in its request for additional funding. Director Linda Naccara reported that for the first time, the center is now turning away some people for lunch. A kitchen that once served about 20 meals in a given day now serves closer to 80, she noted, adding that the center also makes do with phones given away by the school system about nine years ago, and old computer equipment that is time-consuming and inefficient. As many as 240 seniors now use the center in any given day, she explained, noting that the town has provided a subsidy that amounts to about $2 per meal, 80 per week. "We are bursting. We need help," said Naccara.

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