On Tuesday the Lynn City Council held a second budget hearing and plans to vote on the proposed $319.5 million Fiscal Year 2019 budget next Thursday.
The point of Tuesday’s hearing was to hear from city department heads on their wants and needs before next week’s vote.
Department heads from varios city agencies like Lynn Police, Public Works, School Department Veterans Affairs and the Mayor Office all reported that they were satisfied with their respective budgets, signaling that the Council will most likely pass the FY 2019 budget next week.
Again, Mayor Thomas McGee sent a letter to the Council saying that the balanced budget, which includes an $847,564 in reserves, fully funds the city’s net school spending requirement for education. McGee added that the proposed budget correctly budgets the City’s share of health insurance costs based on projected 100 percent utilization at a cost of $47.3 million.
McGee added the proposed budget includes the addition of essential financial and public safety staff, specifically, the city’s first fulltime Chief Financial Officer, 20 new firefighters pending the awarding of a federal grant, and 10 new police officers.
McGee said to close the city’s growing fiscal crisi, the city will borrow $9.5 million to close the FY 2018 budget gap and borrow another $4 million for FY 2019. Back in February the Council voted in favor of a home rule petition that will allow the city to borrow up to $14 million from the Department of Revenue to close the city’s $8.1 million budget gap. The home rule petition that passed also raised some fees on residents and lifted a restriction that requires voter approval before the city can borrow more than $4 million.
At Tuesday’s hearing Lynn Police Chief Michael Mageary testified that he will add ten new officers plus an additional nine through a federal COPS grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. This will strengthen Lynn’s police force to 183 officers, just 10 shy of Lynn’s police force size back in the 1990s. Having 193 officers, Mageary said, would be the ‘optimal’ number of officers for a city of Lynn’s size.
The budget includes a $300,000 increase for the city’s snow removal and ice budget for Public Works (DPW) and will allow DPW Commissioner Andrew Hall to hire one more full-time employee. However, Hall cautioned that even with the increase the city will most likely spend over the snow and ice budget.
Over at the School Department, Superintendent Dr. Catherine Lathman reported on the $147.2 million allocated in the budget for her department.
For years, said Lathman, Lynn has been faced with the daunting challenge of addressing the city’s enrollment issue. The student population has increased by 4,000 students since 1993 according to Latham.
This has put a tremendous strain on Lynn school’s aging educational facilities and the schools are quickly running out of space.
Lathman has been desperately trying to address the issue and was recently authorized by the Council to submit a ‘statement of interest’ to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) seeking funds to build a new Middle School that would replace the aging Pickering Middle School on Conomo Avenue.
Last year Lynn voters overweeningly rejected a $200 million proposal to build a new middle school in the city by a vote of 64 percent to 36 percent.
The plan at the time called for building two new schools in Lynn to replace the Pickering, which the Lathman said is being affected by severe overcrowding. One school, near Pine Grove Cemetery on Parkland Avenue would have housed 652 students while the second school at McManus Field on Commercial Street would have been able to house 1,008 students, according to the plans.
With the Pickering bursting at the seams with around 650 students, Lynn is facing the same problem that some other surrounding cities and towns are facing–having more students than seats at local schools.