NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

March 6, 2013

Selectmen asked to set priorities for next year's budget

(Continued)

Selectmen chairman Albert Knowles Jr. said he wanted to wait until the Pentucket Regional School Committee adopts its final budget before making a decision on levy limits. Sproul’s current budget version fully funds the Pentucket assessment within the town’s operating budget.

However, it does not account for $240,000 in tuition for an out-of-district special education placement for a student who recently moved into the Pentucket region. The school board adopts its budget this month.

Police Chief Lisa Holmes is hoping her request for $55,000 to fund an additional full-time police officer makes it to Town Meeting floor this time around. For several years Holmes has advised selectmen that her department is operating with less than optimal staffing, according to state and national police safety standards.

Archibald said the police department budget has increased by 5 or 6 percent annually for several years as opposed to flat funding in other departments. With the addition of the new officer’s salary and benefits, funding for police will go up 10 percent next year.

“That’s a big nut for my way of thinking,” he said, adding that data indicates police were handling more incidents, felonies and calls a decade ago than they are now.

But Selectman Glenn Knowles said those statistics could likely just mean police are now more effective in their patrolling.

Kemper said some residents have a misconception that there are too many police in town. But the truth is Holmes struggles to adequately fill the 24-hour per day/seven days per week schedule with her current staff of six full-time officers. She often has to rely on the less optimal option of filling shifts with reserve police, which may give the false impression that the department is overstaffed, he said.

The current draft includes no appropriation for the Stabilization Fund, which covers anticipated capital costs and equipment replacement. Kemper wanted to see funding at least comparable to what was spent this year. Currently the town has $1.46 million in its Free Cash account, $810,000 in the Stabilization Fund and $856,000 in un-obligated Community Preservation Act money.

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