Lincoln voters approve budget, tax increase

Lincoln voters approve budget, tax increase

Lincoln Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto, left, and Budget Board Chairman Carl Brunetti discuss a point of order at the Lincoln Financial Town Meeting, at Lincoln High School, Monday. Being questioned was whether the School Department's original request of an additional $500,000 was back on the table if the new proposal of $243,000 was voted down. (Valley Breeze photo by Bill Murphy)

LINCOLN - Following intense deliberations between residents and town officials at Monday's Financial Town Meeting, voters approved the combined budget of $78.9 million for fiscal year 2015, which did not include additional school funding sought by residents.

The municipal budget of $19.1 million was increased by $120,329, and the school budget of $51.1 million saw an increase of $1.5 million.

That's a 1.1 percent tax levy increase, funded by a new tax rate for residential properties of $23.45 per $1,000; commercial property $26.93 per $1,000; personal property $36.99 per $1,000; and motor vehicles $30.66 per $1,000.

Despite the increase in the school department's budget, residents brought forth a petition asking for an additional $500,000 from the town, which was decreased during the meeting by School Committee Chairwoman Kristine Donabedian.

Donabedian made a motion to amend the $500,000 petition to $200,000, the amount needed to alleviate overcrowding at the elementary schools.

Resident Sandra Mitchell made an additional amendment to the petition to add $43,000 to the $200,000 to maintain the position of a part-time social worker in the district.

"I've been in schools and a social worker is a vital part of the well being of students and their parents," she said to the crowd. "I can only image how they are important to the students at the high school during a critical time in their lives."

Although the residents voted 235 to 227 to make the $243,000 the main motion on the table, they ultimately voted against the additional funding - 173 to 231 - by paper ballot.

Members of the high school student council and future student council members were in attendance to count the ballots.

Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond said he believed the $200,000 amendment would have passed had the additional $43,000 not been included.

A lengthy discussion ensued following this amendment about whether or not the $43,000 would actually go toward a part-time social worker.

"The people funding the money, the taxpayers, even though they vote on the budget they cannot determine on how the money is spent," he said. "That's why you have a school committee to determine how to operate the schools and money in the best interest of the students."

Almond said he supported the $200,000 following numerous discussions between the Budget Board and the School Committee about overcrowding, health care and the surplus.

He said he gave the School Committee and the board credit because they studied the numbers for 10 weeks and made recommendations based on their findings, but ultimately it's up to the voters to decide the final budget.

"We learned an awful lot about what we're spending our money on and what problems we need to address, and I think people who are in charge of managing these things goals should be: What positive can we take from this, how can we improve our schools, and how can we better use our money?"

Along with the combined budget, the voters also approved all proposed resolutions, including multiple capital improvement projects for school and town facilities.

The police station will now undergo renovations following the appropriation of $3.1 million toward the construction of a two-story, 4,300-square-foot addition to their building.

Voters also allowed for $175,000 be used for the construction of a new bathroom/storage/shelter building at Albion Park, $20,000 from the Open Space Fund be used for the installation of two solar-powered toilet facilities within Chase Farm Park, $38,500 for the renovation of the Chase Farm house, and an additional $25,000 for the securing, relocation and restoration of the Pullen's Corner "Hot Potato" School to the Chase Farm property.

One of the bigger capital improvement projects approved by the voters was the replacement of Ferguson Field and track at the high school at a cost of $1.5 million.

The money will cover a synthetic turf field, a latex based track, an irrigation system, a four-foot chain link fence, a new scoreboard and sports field equipment.

Resident Jack Santos asked the board why the field, which will be made of turf, required an irrigation system.

Budget Board member Michael Babbitt said that despite the synthetic material, the field must be watered down from time to time to wash off any debris that might accumulate on it.

Resident Judy Hadley expressed her concerns about drainage on the field and questioned whether or not it would flood during heavy rainfall.

Babbitt said Pare Engineering conducted a preliminary engineering and construction study of the surface and did not foresee any problems with the synthetic surface.

In the end, Almond said he was happy to see the high school auditorium filled with voters Monday night because "that is what the budget process is about."

"I don't think there were any victories," he said. "I was glad to see that many people there and people learning about the process, so I think people can learn from this."

Lincoln resident John Zangari speaks at the Financial Town Meeting about the School Department's proposed budget increase. (Photo by Bill Murphy)
Budget Board Moderator Robert Turner tries to calm the crowd during the discussion of the School Department's proposed budget increase of $243,000 at the Lincoln Financial Town Meeting, at Lincoln High School, Monday. (Valley Breeze photo by Bill Murphy)

Comments

Just to be clear, some people are tired of giving. When I say I am still investing in the education of the children of Lincoln, that means I am speaking in favor of increasing the school budget.