Hadley eyes $807,000 budget gap, fire department changes
JERREY ROBERTS David G. Nixon, Hadley Town Adminstrator, in front of Town Hall Friday, Sept. 2. Purchase photo reprints »
HADLEY — Town Administrator David Nixon is proposing using $510,000 in “free cash” to help bridge an $807,000 budget gap.
His plans also call for postponing the hiring of a permanent fire chief in favor of hiring an interim chief and eliminating the captain position.
“That’s a very large shortfall to try to cover,” Nixon said of the budget gap.
He said that although using free cash — leftover funds from the previous fiscal year — to balance the budget violates town budget policy, he recommends it as a “once-only measure,” which will no longer be necessary once the school budget achieves stability.
The remaining gap of $307,000 would be made up by reassessing revenue and trimming services.
Cutting the fire captain position, as Nixon proposes, would save the town approximately $55,000.
The proposal will almost certainly be revised by the Select Board, which will vote March 20 on a budget to send to Town Meeting.
At a meeting Wednesday, Select Board Chairwoman Gloria DiFulvio indicated that she would oppose the elimination of the fire captain position.
By far the largest expenditure in the town budget is the schools, which requested $6.029 million in funding, nearly a 6 percent increase from last year’s budget of $5.7 million.
In order to maintain level services, the schools would need close to $5.9 million in funding from the town, a 3 percent increase over last year’s budget. Interim Superintendent Donna Moyer said she believes the schools also need improvements — ranging from two sets of new doors at Hopkins Academy to funding for professional development — which have not been funded in the past. In order to fund those improvements, Moyer is seeking an additional $135,000 in funding.
School Committee Vice Chairwoman Molly Keegan described the additional funding the schools are seeking as “catch-up.” The town’s share of the school budget has also increased because the schools dipped in school choice reserves to fund the budget last year, Keegan said.
Because the school budget has more than $100,000 in additions, the School Committee expects that the budget for the schools will be more stable next year, increasing at a slower rate.
The School Committee is also seeking $150,000 of technology upgrades at Hadley Elementary School through a separate article at Town Meeting.
Nixon said because he expects the school budget to stabilize he is recommends using free cash to balance the budget. He also said that if the state provides the level of Chapter 70 school funding to the town that is in Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget, Hadley will use significantly less free cash.
The town, which maintains a $2 million stabilization fund, balanced the budget by using more than $500,000 of free cash last year, but Nixon said that money was largely spent on capital improvements rather than operating expenses.
The position of full-time chief will be new for the fire department, and is expected to cost the town $70,000 per year.
In July of last year, consultants hired by the town found that the fire department is understaffed given the level of traffic that Hadley sees during the day and recommended hiring a full-time chief and two full-time firefighters.
The only full-time employee at the fire department is Capt. Michael Spanknebel. Fire Chief James Kicza works part time and faces mandatory retirement this year.
The Select Board is seeking applications for the position of fire chief, but they have not decided whether to hire the two additional firefighters recommended.
Nixon said his proposal for the fire department may not be adopted by the Select Board, but balancing the budget “requires a certain amount of sacrifice on everybody’s part.”
The Select Board is also planning to seek funding for capital expenses through a separate article at Town Meeting.
“We’re actually looking at, as a board, pulling things out that could be capital,” said board member Joyce Chunglo. The town would then be able to borrow money for all the capital projects at a low interest rate, Chunglo said.