LONGMEADOW — The Longmeadow Select Board met to discuss various agenda items including the fiscal year 2025 budget and the Town Meeting warrant on April 1.

The FY25 Budget was introduced at the Select Board’s previous meeting. According to Town Manager Lyn Simmons, this year’s budget is similar to last year’s with only minor changes. Describing it as a preservation budget, she emphasized that while there are no significant cuts, there are also no substantial advancements.

“The one area that I can say that I feel pretty good about where we’re going is with the field maintenance. We were able to keep that in. It’s a very small amount, but it is more than we’ve ever done before and it’s in recognition of the Active Recreation Conditions Assessment that was just completed,” said Simmons.

During the discussion, Select Board member Mark Gold voiced concern regarding the forestry line item, noting a reduction in funding.

“This budget reduces our commitment to the forestry line item, which is part of the DPW, and it’s unfortunate that we’ve done that. I understand the rationale was primarily because we need the money and don’t have the funding to do that, but I really believe it’s shortsighted. The trees take forever to grow here and to cut back on planting the trees, especially after the report we got talking about the huge number of trees we need, is disheartening to see,” said Gold.

Despite being unable to meet the Longmeadow DPW’s full $200,000 request for tree planting due to budget constraints, Simmons highlighted a shift in the DPW’s approach to treating trees as integral infrastructure. She explained that trees removed for road projects will now be replaced as part of those projects, though not reflected directly in the budget line.

Gold also raised alarm over the 9.31% increase in retirement contribution funds, suggesting a need for a study to explore withdrawing from the Hampden County Regional Retirement Board.
“Frankly, it’s gone up 9% for the last several years and it’s projected to go up 9% for the next five, six, seven, eight years… I’m not saying we do withdraw, but I think we need to understand what it would mean to try to do that,” said Gold.

Before voting on the budget, Select Board Clerk Vineeth Hemavathi brought up the importance of little changes in mindset and how it helps them reassess and build an even better budget going forward.
“The fact that you mentioned DPW’s now starting to think about trees as part of our infrastructure, just that small change in mindset I think is going to have such a big impact and help us toward our goals in planting the trees that we need to have our town where it needs to be,” said Hemavathi.

The budget was subsequently approved for presentation at the upcoming 2024 Annual Town Meeting.
Another notable agenda item was the approval of the Town Meeting Warrant. The 2024 spring Town Meeting will be on May 14 at 7 p.m. in the Longmeadow High School Gymnasium.

The warrant has changed several times since the last Select Board Meeting. The biggest change was the addition of Article 3, which proposes transferring $500,000 from the Operating Stabilization Fund to purchase a new, high-quality elementary literacy curriculum. The current curriculum has been in place for approximately 15 years.

The Operating Stabilization Fund, typically reserved for emergencies and unforeseen circumstances, currently holds over $8.5 million. The specific cost of the curriculum will be anywhere between $200,000 to $500,000. The final curriculum recommendation and price will be determined by the end of May.

“If we wanted to wait and do something once we know what they’re recommending, we would likely need a special Town Meeting to do that. Their goal is to buy this new curriculum, do professional development over the summer, and have it roll out for the 2024-2025 school year. In considering those options, I went ahead and put this on here for discussion to see how you feel about it,” said Simmons.

Member Joshua Levine supported the initiative, recognizing its potential to aid students impacted by COVID-19 and virtual learning.

“I would encourage everyone to vote for it tonight to get it in front of the town. I think this is important, and I understand that it’s a little strange how it’s coming about, but I think we’ve got to put it forward,” said Levine.

Gold expressed reservations about depleting the Operating Stabilization Fund, suggesting alternative funding strategies.

“The Operating Stabilization Fund affects all kinds of things like our bond rating … $500,000 is not an insignificant amount of money. Frankly, I’m not qualified to decide whether we need this or whether this is the right cost, but I’d rather go back and rethink this within our Capital Plan,” he said.

This project would put the fund at about $8 million. According to Ian Coddington, Longmeadow Finance Director, this would still be well within their general reserves policy per their debt service, as well as within the Select Board’s recommendation for general reserves.

“It is an expensive purchase, but it does not put us into a dangerous position when it comes to general reserves, at least not at this point,” said Coddington.

Simmons agreed.

“We don’t have enough money to go around, and we have an Operating Stabilization Fund that can cover an unforeseen expenditure,” she said.

Gold maintained that withdrawing from this fund would be ill-advised, expressing doubt that it would secure the necessary two-thirds majority approval at the Town Meeting. He suggested an alternative course of action, proposing they rescind and amend the initial Capital Plan. The board could then vote to defer a $250,000 payment toward other post-employment benefits to the fall, postpone the transfer of $125,000 designated for a fire truck, and delay the allocation of $120,000 for new school security cameras. This would free up $495,000 to purchase the curriculum.

Other members of the Select Board seemed to agree with this new plan, although they hesitated to defer the purchase of the security cameras as they didn’t know the safety implications of doing this and if the cameras were an urgent need. Levine suggested deferring all OPEB and putting more funds toward the security cameras now.

“My guess is that [the Information Technology Deparment] will want to bid it as a package instead of doing two separate bids, but I haven’t talked to them. I don’t know that it will be any benefit to them to get a partial amount,” said Simmons.

In the end, the Select Board decided to stick with Gold’s original plan and approved the revised funding plan for the curriculum, subject to vote at the upcoming Town Meeting. Other warrant articles were also approved with minimal debate.

Carolyn Noel