The fire and police departments will have to wait at least another year to add new positions they initially requested this year.
HINGHAM — The board of selectmen approved a budget at its Tuesday meeting that does not include funds for several positions initially requested by various departments, including a new firefighter/EMT and a new police officer.
Town administrator Tom Mayo told the selectmen he had trimmed more than $300,000 in requested funding from his initial town budget presentation to get to a balanced budget. The $112 million budget would be a 3.08 increase from last year.
Public Safety Departments
In its initial 2021 budget requests, the fire and police departments each requested a new position, at $74,055 and $78,209, respectively.
A budget presentation shown to the selectmen in December said the town’s police received 1,154 more calls in 2019 than in 2018, largely due to increased residential and commercial development in the town. The department is now responding to increasingly complex and time-consuming calls, with officers encountering situations that can be complicated by individuals dealing with drug use or mental health problems, fraud or complicated technology.
In December, Hingham Police Chief Glen Olsson said he was looking toward the town’s future, and knew it could take a few years for his request for a new officer to be approved.
“We’re doing a lot of future thinking now because we’re trying to maximize officers’ time,” he said. “It’s a slow process.”
Fire Chief Steve Murphy also said he requested a new firefighter with the understanding that it might take several years for a new firefighter to actually join his department.
The fire department needs at least 11 people to be on duty at all times, and typically assigned 13 people to a shift to allow for firefighters who are out for a day or on vacation. Adding a new position would give the department some wiggle room, Murphy said, as increased development in the town could also place more strain on the fire department.
Selectmen Chairwoman Karen Johnson said on Tuesday she was worried by the plan to defer the requests, given the length of time it takes to find, hire and train new public safety workers.
“Taking it out of the budget this year really puts us back 18 months, two years… It’s troubling to me,” she said.
Town administrator Tom Mayo is also deferring requests for an additional $20,000 to fund overtime for police officers and $14,000 for the promotional exam expenses for the fire department.
Mayo said he had spoken to both chiefs before delivering his revised budget presentation and explained the need to defer their requests for now.
“While unfortunate, they understand budgeting realities and are will to deal with it,” he told the selectmen. He is also deferring requests for an additional $20,000 to fund overtime for police officers and $14,000 for the promotional exam expenses for the fire department.
Mayo deferred a request for $44,735 to pay for a part-time public information officer. The position would have ran the town’s social media, done public outreach, worked as a press liaison and responded to public records requests.
Much of this work will now fall to Mayo and Assistant Town Manager Michelle Monsegur.
Mayo also changed a request to fund a six month overlap between hiring a new IT director and the current directly retiring to asking for a three month overlap, at a cost of $30,739.
The senior center will also not get its requested $42,186 for an outreach coordinator. Mayo said he felt he needed more time to determine what the appropriate level of staffing for the senior center.
“It’s an important position, I just didn’t think it was ready yet, so that’s why I was willing to pull it back,” he said, adding that the position will likely be included in the budget next year instead.
Selectmen Mary Power said it was “hard to say no to a worthy request,” especially given that the senior center typically works with a budget of only a few hundred thousand dollars a year. She noted the selectmen have received about 20 letters and a petition with between 75 and 100 signatures asking for the new position.
However, the budget does include funding for a few new positions, including $21,914 for a part time custodian at town hall, which Mayo said would allow current custodial staff to pay more attention to the senior center’s facility.
Nes Correnti, a school committee member speaking in a personal capacity, asked whether the town could put more of its unassigned general fund toward the operating budget.
Mayo said the town’s financial policy, which is determined by the advisory committee, says that excess unassigned funds should not be used for recurring costs in the town. Decisions that conflict with the town’s financial policy, could impact that town’s AAA bond rating, Mayo said. The town is heading into a period of major capital investment makes it even more important that the town maintains its bond rating, he said.
Johnson reiterated the importance of maintaining Hingham’s AAA rating.
“Our united hard work by all of the town and town meeting to stay the course, to continue this financial stewardship of the town, has made it possible for us to enjoy the borrowing rates that have returned significant dollars back to the citizens of Hingham,” she said.
The selectmen unanimously voted to send the proposed budget to the advisory committee, which will then choose whether to recommend it to town meeting next month.