Winthrop Officials Begin the Budget Process

By Sue Ellen Woodcock

With a new chief financial officer just a few weeks on the job, the town has begun to delve in to the financial process for fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1, 2016.

Without getting into numbers publicly, Town Manager James McKenna outlined some of the priorities for the upcoming year.

But Winthrop’s Chief Financial Officer Michael Perez told members of the Winthrop Finance Commission, made up of the Citizens Finance Committee and three town councilors, that the overall FY17 budget increases will be small.

“The state government numbers are still up in the air,” Perez said. “There are no final numbers yet so the budget is a work in progress.”

“The past year has been good,” said Town Manager James McKenna, adding that rebuilding reserves and funding items in the capital plan is a priority. While there is currently $3.6 million in reserves, McKenna’s goal is to get that up to $5 million.

McKenna said his first priority with the upcoming budget is the successful opening of the new middle/high school. He also wants look at ways to shape the police department and mitigate the challenges there.

“We continue to need equipment (in DPW) and have used capital funds wisely,” McKenna said, adding that at this point the town does have an agreement with crews from Buffalo for major snow removal. “We also continue to focus on economic development.”

Another issue to address is what the town will do with the soon to be old middle/high school on Pauline Street.

“There will be some costs for items like heat,” McKenna said, adding that a $1 million estimate makes demolishing the school not feasible.

McKenna said he also wants to attract more business to Winthrop, especially businesses that will stay in town. He noted that 83 percent of the town’s workforce leaves town each day and there is only 13 percent retail production in town. He said they are working on a plan for the town center, something the state is behind with its Community Compact.

On the current expenditure side of the budget for FY16, McKenna said police and fire overtime is running close to fully expended.

“There have been some personnel challenges in both departments,” McKenna said.

He added that there have also been expenses in the management information systems (MIS). Currently, outside of the school system, there are four servers that are “ancient” and will be replaced in the next few weeks.

McKenna said there are also staffing issues in the Assessor’s Department and the Clerk’s office. Councilor James Letterie asked about the unemployment budget in the schools and the town. McKenna said that due to a couple of circumstances the unemployment budget will have to go up.

Former School Committee member Mary Alice Sharkey, who is still an advocate for the schools, said the town needs a “chunk” of money to start the new school on the “most positive road.”

“(The budget) just can’t keep going up with $450,000 every year,” Sharkey said.

Letterie said the schools are top-heavy in personnel. He added that the town spent $1 million on IPads last year, but there are no IBooks.

“The School Committee has to get involved,” Letterie said.

The school budget will be discussed at the School Committee meeting on Feb. 22 and the public hearing on the school budget is March 7. The Town Council must vote on the final budget no later than June 15.

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