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February 2, 2013

Essex officials working to avoid override

Police, fire salaries contribute to $529K rise

ESSEX — While town officials concede it is early in the process, operating expenses for the town are up by more than half a million dollars.

However, at least one — Jeffrey Soulard, who heads the Finance Committee — said he is optimistic officials will not have to ask voters for an override of tax-limiting Proposition 2 1/2.

So far, the budget for fiscal 2014 stands at a 3.5 percent increase from this year, a $529,000 increase in operating expenses.

The operating budget stands at $15,538,011 for fiscal 2014, including Essex’s projected contribution to the Manchester Essex Regional School District, as well as the water and sewer funds.

Soulard said the Finance Committee still needs to cut about $300,000 to $500,000 from the budget to prevent an override, but believes officials can reach that goal.

As far as capital expenses, selectmen requested $700,000 for design plans for a new safety building. A preliminary budget document shows the project was first proposed for fiscal 2005.

The current Martin Street fire and police station recently had its leaky roof repaired, but asbestos has been confirmed in the building.

According to the town administrator’s report dated Jan. 28, consultants are working on a scope of work needed to remove the asbestos, which is not in heavily populated areas of the building.

A feasibility study for a new public safety building was completed in the fall of 2011, after Reinhardt and Associates, an Agawam-based consulting firm, recommended the town build one. The proposed site is a town-owned plot of land off John Wise Avenue.

Money for the project would be borrowed and spread out over several years; the actual cost of construction is estimated to be $6.8 million. Work would start in fiscal 2015.

An increase of $86,083 in the Police Department’s operating budget can be largely attributed to salaries. In a letter to the Finance Committee and the town accountant, police Chief Peter Silva cited the addition of one full-time officer and the assignment of an executive officer as reasons for the rising budget.

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