Wellesley FY25 budget talks ramp up, with focus on ‘human assets’

Wellesley Executive Director Meghan Jop this week at the Select Board meeting shared a presentation on the fiscal year 2025 budget guidelines, leading into all-board meetings next week that will delve even deeper into the topic. You can review Jop’s presentation, and Select Board discussion, via Wellesley Media’s recording of the Sept. 26 meeting.

The town has begun discussing a more individualized approach to departmental budget guidelines, with special attention paid to impacts expected from union settlements and to any new jobs planned. Webmaster (would be great to get accompanying documents posted with meeting agendas to help people follow along) and mobility manager (charged with addressing the town’s worsening traffic and implementing sustainability plans) positions are being contemplated for the Select Board budget. The guidelines also include recommended cost-of-living increases for non-union employees.

A flat 3% expense increase is recommended in the initial guidelines for most departments, though some, such as information technology (rising software subscription costs) and the Town Clerk’s office (4 elections) are anticipated to need more. The town is looking at an overall 3.5% budget increase for schools, though serious discussions with the school administration have only begun. It’s looking at a 5% budget increase for the rest of the town, taking into consideration some extraordinary costs associated with fire department overtime and additional personnel, plus continuing to make up for parking/traffic revenue that hasn’t fully bounced back since the pandemic. Guidelines will be adjusted further as FY24 budgets are recast to reflect updated financial information.

Board Chair Lise Olney said she appreciates guidelines, after a successful “longtime focus on our capital needs,” that put a focus on the town’s human assets through competitive compensation packages. Wellesley and other municipalities have had big challenges in hiring and retaining talent.

The individualized approach to departments, added Select Board member Tom Ulfelder, “demonstrates to the town that we are sincere in our effort to prioritize our human assets.”

Furthering such efforts, Jop noted toward the end of the meeting that the town has been awarded a $50,000 state grant that will support a job classification and compensation study that it seeks to start in the new year, hopefully after filling its HR director role.

Member Beth Sullivan Woods said the guideline discussion is valuable heading into the all-board meetings, though did raise concerns about baking new headcount into the budget. She’d rather see the town work through the Advisory Committee to defend adding personnel in needed areas incrementally.

Under the town’s 5-year cash capital plan, about $10.8M was identified for FY25, though town leadership will have a better sense of actual requests by the end of November. From there, the town will need to figure out how much to cut from its plan, or how to cover expenses, such as through free cash, borrowing, or grants. Ulfelder emphasized this is the same process of cash capital give-and-take that has happened for years, with strong reserves of late helping to address some one-off projects, like the new public safety radio tower.

The town has a healthy pot of reserves, at $34M, or more than 18% of budgeted operating revenues. The overall projected budget is currently estimated to be about $190M for FY25, with unknowns such as state aid and health insurance remaining to be solidified.

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