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Southampton Town Meeting OKs $14.5 million budget but no money for public safety equipment

The purchases the town did not fund were all requested by public safety departments: $33,000 for a police cruiser, $10,000 for police emergency equipment, $5,650 for a new server for the Fire Department, and $7,960 for new fire hoses.

“All of these are very necessary for our well-being, but we don’t have the money at this time,” Select Board member Michael L. Phelan Jr. told the 75 voters at the meeting. “These were all put on the warrant in anticipation of funds that we don’t have.”

Police Chief David Silvernail said he hopes to bring both of his requests back to a special Town Meeting in the fall, when additional funding may be available.

Part of the reason the town cannot afford the items is that almost $113,000 in stabilization funds were spent at a February Town Meeting to pay for employee raises and other projects — money town officials planned to replace using free cash at a later date, Finance Committee member Derek Geser said in an interview.

But after free cash was used — $371,778 to balance the budget and $204,150 to fund various projects on Tuesday’s meeting agenda — only $53,939 could be returned to the stabilization fund with voters’ approval.

Phelan said the shortage of funds also limited the town’s ability to finance projects such as a study to determine the feasibility of building a public safety complex on a parcel of land behind the current fire station. Town Meeting Tuesday approved $10,000 to do a preliminary study, including researching deeds and testing soil.

“We would have liked to do $50,000 to get to preliminary architectural plans, but we don’t have the money,” he said.

The spending plan voters approved, a 4.8 percent increase over the current year’s budget, level-funded almost all departments with the exception of 2 percent raises for non-union employees.

The largest section of the budget was school funding, which included $4.3 million to fund the town’s share of the Hampshire Regional School District and $4.1 million for the William E. Norris School.

Also at the meeting, residents endorsed the master plan, which town officials and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission completed and the Planning Board accepted this spring. Master Plan Committee member Hank Barton told residents the document lists town goals in areas such as land use, public services and development and recommends actions to achieve them. He said an implementation committee will be formed in June to start the process.

Voters approved the creation of a trust fund to be used to cover future health care expenses and other benefits for town employees when they retire, and $10,000 to do a study to estimate the town’s future liability for post-employment benefits. They also put $1,000 in the fund.

They also approved increasing Conservation Commission fees and allotted $33,500 in Community Preservation Act funds for projects including creating a memorial area in Crossroads Park, for the restoration of Civil War monuments, and for other projects overseen by the town’s veterans grave officer.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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