West Springfield will invest in schools, infrastructure and public safety in coming year | #schoolsaftey

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The town’s $120 million operating budget for the coming year funds investments in schools, infrastructure, public safety and municipal modernizations with increased spending in most departments.

COVID-19 pandemic supply chain issues and inflation are the main causes for increases seen across departments, according to Edward C. Sullivan, the town’s council president.

While West Springfield residents have enjoyed years with no tax increases, budgetary pressures in the town’s recurring expenses for 2024 will require a tax increase of 3.5% to be raised.

“Taxes have not gone up in seven years, property value may have gone up, but we (the town council) have no control over that,” Sullivan said.

According to Sullivan residents’ tax bills will not change just yet. Property owners will not know what the average tax bill will be until a rate and shift is set by the council in the first week of December, he said.

Significant changes in the operating budget include funding for department equipment, negotiated salary increases for all unions with settled contracts and rising costs for services, technology, supplies, materials, utilities and fuel.

The budget includes funding to continue to build town’s “Rainy Day” reserves.

Positions were eliminated in the mayor’s office and in the human resource department to save the town money.

Infrastructure and paving projects were appropriated from the $8 million in ARPA funding the town received. Mayor William Reichelt laid out townwide goals he’d like to accomplish that have long been overlooked. The one-time ARPA funding must be used before June 30, 2024, Sullivan said.

EMPLOYEE BENEFITS: The Fiscal Year 2024 budget includes a health insurance rate increase of 12% based on more employee participation and higher utilization during the current year.

SCHOOL DEPARTMENT: The school department’s $51,602,073 operating budget represents a 5.40% increase from 2023.

Expenses include negotiated salary increases for unions with settled contracts, monies for half of the positions funded by federal pandemic emergency relief grants and School Choice funds and the reduction of the use of pandemic funding for transportation.

The five-year capital budget includes plans for an athletic bus and expansion projects at the Memorial, Tatham and Fausey schools. In addition to roof replacements at Fausey and John Ashley, a chiller system installment and oil tank removal at West Springfield Middle School.

PUBLIC SAFETY: In the public safety department, the capital budget calls for $15,130,606, a 6.04% increase over this year’s appropriation. A mental health co-response clinician and assistant fire chief position are included.

Along with additional operating costs for fuel, plans over the next six years include a cruiser, overtime for training, a new police station, body cameras and a new fire engine.

DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS: The DPW’s $5,304,408 operating budget is a 5.93% increase from 2023′s budget.

Several projects are scheduled to continue, including street and sidewalk maintenance, Complete Streets projects and a Memorial Avenue corridor reconstruction. The 2024 budget continues to fund two interns in the engineering department.

Reductions in other areas were made to offset the impact of increased trash collection rates, disposal and fuel costs.

Other projects on a five-year capital budget includes phase two of the Riverwalk, a new DPW yard, truck replacement, intersection repairs at Dewy Street, Amostown Road and Rogers Avenue and Union Street drainage improvements. Storm water improvements include flood station upgrades, a flood wall and culvert repairs, a street sweeper and more.

WATER ENTERPRISE FUND: The fund increased by 4.86% to $5,783,342. All operating costs will be supported through user fees in the new fiscal year. Planned rate increases will be effective for all water bills with an issue date of July 1, 2023, or later.

The rate increases are to accommodate continued infrastructure improvements related to drinking water, Sullivan said.

ARPA MONEY: The $8 million in ARPA funding will be used to complete infrastructure projects such as street and sidewalk maintenance, The Vietnam Veterans Bridge, DPW Truck replacement, DPW design documents, DPW pick-up truck, Main Street substation repairs and a roof replacement at the town hall.

CAPITAL PROJECTS: About 85 streets are to be paved between this year and next year, Sullivan said.

Capital projects for the next five years include sewer main cleaning and inspections, a low-pressure main for Queen Avenue, a heavy-duty utility vehicle with trailer, various sewer main repairs and replacements.

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