New South Hadley Town Meeting members get sworn in before the meeting starts.
Reminder Publishing screen capture by Tyler Garnet

SOUTH HADLEY — Annual Town Meeting took place on May 8 and many residents took the chance to express their concerns with the fiscal year 2025 budget when it came up on the warrant with Article 10.

The proposed operating budget for FY25 was $56,405,051 which is just over $2 million higher than the FY24 budget approved last year.

The school budget is increasing by 3.8% or $950,000.

Revenue increases come primarily from taxation and local receipts with a minor increase in state aid.
Throughout multiple public hearings and presentations, members of the School Committee, Select Board and administration have stated this would be a difficult year for the budget.

At Town Meeting, Appropriations Committee Chair Thomas Terry reiterated that point about this being a tough year for the budget but applauded everyone who put in the work to get the budget to where it is.

He said, “This is very much a challenging year as far as budgeting goes. Our increase in state aid was substantially less than it’s been in prior years, only about $54,000 net where as the year before was $684,000 and the year before that, even more than that. That in combination with higher than previous increases in our unclassified accounts such as health insurance and retirement put a real strain on the budget and really required a great deal of work to come up with an operating budget that we can use for this fiscal year.”

Many concerns voiced by Town Meeting members included the School Department, Police Department and town insurance for liability and health.

Members also said based on town bylaws, the budget should be separated into different articles by each specific department instead of just one line item for $56 million.

Although the town has been doing it this way for years, it was expressed by town council that next year there will either be a bylaw change or the budget will be separated into separate line items for each department.
The school budget saw a $934,000 increase to its FY25 budget after requesting a $995,000 increase.

The FY25 budget presentations showed that the budget included reducing 23 paraeducators and three teachers.

It also included adding approximately eight education teaching assistants, one teacher, one certified nurse assistant and one assistant principal.

The one additional teacher would be a teacher of the deaf, and the assistant principal is an archived position returning at South Hadley High School.

Town Meeting members had concerns with the reduction to the special education department.

Many parents also voiced their concerns at past budget meetings to the reduction of paraprofessionals but School Committee Chair Eric Friesner said, “We did hear parent concerts at the budget public meeting. Those concerns were not necessarily, to my ears, about staff but how services would be delivered and administration at that meeting and other meetings. Parent concerns has let us know that the reduction staff will not negatively impact the services delivered to students.”

Liability insurance and health insurance have increased over the past five years.

The general liability insurance increased 12% from last fiscal year and health insurance increased 7.2%.
South Hadley participates in the Hampshire County Group Insurance Trust and Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association.

Town Administrator Lisa Wong said she has been paying close attention to participating in both.

“They’ve been pretty stable except that in the past year there’s been a few things that affect our rates. January is the annual meeting of both Massachusetts Municipal Association and MIIA. During that time they talk about a general increase, I believe it was about 8% there were anticipating, so because South Hadley has been typically higher than average in terms of using insurance, we expected that our rates would come in higher than 8%. We only recently received the bill and we have just enough money in the budget to meet those needs,” Wong said.

The increase is close to 10% and Wong said the reason those numbers are, is due to a few issues including a recent wastewater treatment plant having the largest single claim for any municipality to MIAA after a vehicle stored there in 2021 caught fire and created over a million dollars of damages to the building.

To keep the rates lower, Wong said there are preventative and training programs the town can undertake, pay the full amount earlier for a discount.

She added, “Policies, training, procedures have been put in place since then so we are hoping once this particular issue falls off our rates that we can continue to enjoy the relatively stable comprehensive benefits of the particular insurance programs.”

A couple Town Meeting members went on to say it was “outrageous,” “shameful,” “concerning” and “disheartening.” that in a difficult budgeting year, there is an 8% increase in the Police Department budget and they would be voting “no” on the budget.

Wong said she is set to start the police negotiate contract talks soon with the three-year contract coming to an end of FY25, but residents can also reach out to her at any point with their questions and concerns.
After almost an hour of discussion, the budget was approved by Town Meeting members.

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