Needham Town Meeting members moved quickly through the warrant at the opening of the on Monday night, dispatching more than half of the articles in the first three and a half hours, including the town’s fiscal year 2013 operating budget totaling $117.7 million.
Held in the newly restored “grand hall” on the second floor of —now named James Hugh Powers Hall after the longest ever serving Town Meeting member—the 2012 meeting began with the usual business, including the swearing in of newly elected members.
Though Town Moderator Michael Fee at first joked that the town clerk had insisted upon swearing in each member one at a time up front—a method that would have taken quite a while, as every single member in the April 10 town election—Town Clerk Tedi Eaton ultimately asked all members to stand at their seats, and everyone took the oath of office together.
Later, following the evening break, Eaton shared that 228 voting members had checked in, with 23 absent. Town Meeting comprises 240 elected members as well as a handful of at-large members such as selectmen, board chairs and others.
Several items were passed immediately by consent, with no discussion, including: Articles 3, 7, 8, 9, 15, 26, 27, 29, 33, 35 and 38. ( to read summaries of these articles.)
Much of the first evening of business related to the town’s FY2013 operating budget, which at $117,705,784 amounts to a 4.7 percent increase over FY2012.
In his presentation of the budget, Finance Committee member Richard Zimbone mentioned the “bridge to 2013” that officials had been talking about for several years, saying, “Well, we have crossed that bridge” and that the town is entering the fiscal year in a strong position.
“This FY2013 operating budget is presented without reliance on federal stimulus money or other one-time funds to support departmental expenditures,” Zimbone noted.
In addition, there are several proposals to add money to the town’s “rainy day” funds, or reserves, and steps have been taken to curb growth in some of the town’s traditionally fastest growing line items, such as energy use and health care costs, Zimbone said.
Selectman Jerry Wasserman also had good things to say about this year’s budget.
“We don’t always say this, but Needham is in good financial shape, especially if you compare us to a lot of towns in the commonwealth,” he said. “We’ve gone through this economic downturn very well.”
Wasserman said the town’s “secret ingredient” to financial success was largely the “high level of cooperation” among town boards and departments.
But while officials are optimistic about the coming fiscal year, Zimbone said they also are prepared for certain challenges, including a still struggling economy both nationally and locally.
The also faces challenges in the coming years, including enrollment growth at the high school and rising transportation and special education costs.
In her discussion of the FY2013 school budget, School Committee chairwoman Heidi Black said it was “the story of transition,” as the district moves away from using federal stimulus money, adjusts to increasing enrollment at the secondary level instead of at the elementary level and adds several program improvements in an effort to continue enhancing the Needham education.
The FY2013 school budget, at $51,892,719, represents a 5.8 percent increase over FY2012.
Below is a rundown of how money is being spent in Needham in FY2013, with the FY2012 expenditures for comparison:Town department FY2013 FY2012 Townwide expenses (group health insurance, debt service, retirement, etc.) $33,533,374 $31,548,018 Board of Selectmen and Town Manager $802,113 $826,252 Town Clerk and Board of Registrars $341,853 $317,680 Town Counsel $300,039 $298,664 Personnel Board $11,600 $11,600 Finance Department $2,296,615 $2,164,861 Finance Committee $31,364 $29,457 General Government Total $3,807,723 $3,625,375
Planning $255,442 $248,936 Community Development $130,484 $120,442 Land Use and Development Total $385,926 $369,378
Police Department $5,323,227 $5,225,460 Fire Department $6,333,112 $6,336,574 Building Department $489,559 $468,208 Public Safety Total $12,145,898 $12,030,242
Minuteman School Assessment $780,038 $562,637 Needham Public Schools $51,112,681 $48,501,371 Public Schools Total $51,892,719 $49,064,008
Department of Public Works $4,900,896 $4,770,679 Municipal Parking Program $55,000 $55,000 Municipal Lighting Program $233,000 $256,000 Public Works Total $5,188,896 $5,081,679
Public Facilities Total $7,728,053 $7,725,555
Health Department $488,712 $462,130 Human Services $588,016 $564,243 Commission on Disabilities $550 $550 Historical Commission $1,050 $1,050 Needham Public Library $1,382,743 $1,365,286 Park and Recreation Department $561,374 $551,270 Memorial Park $750 $750 Community Services Total
$3,023,195 $2,945,279 TOTAL OPERATING BUDGET $117,705,784 $112,389,534
Along with the town budget, articles receiving approval on Monday, May 7 included: .
Town Meeting adjourned for the evening at around 11 p.m. and will reconvene on Wednesday, May 9 at 7:30 p.m. The first four items to be discussed include an article on bowhunting on town property, a home rule petition on the sale of alcohol and two citizen's petition articles—Article 22, which addresses , and Article 23, a resolution .
Also on the agenda still are articles addressing Community Preservation Act projects, capital items and the town's reserve funds.