Town Administrator Lisa Wong and the Select Board discuss the FY25 budget.
Reminder Publishing screen capture by Tyler Garnet

SOUTH HADLEY — South Hadley has begun sharing its preliminary numbers for the fiscal year 2025 budget after hosting a public hearing on March 20 and March 26.

The town budget public hearing meeting started on March 20 but after the school budget discussion took nearly three hours, the Select Board decided to start the town budget discussion but continue it on March 26.

Town Administrator Lisa Wong talked about the budget process this year compared to past years.
She said, “Typically we have had a budget hearing within a regular Select Board, and this is a new thing we are trying this year by actually having the budget hearing earlier than the Select Board meeting.”
Wong presented a slideshow that included the proposed FY25 budget which is projected to be approximately $56.8 million which is an 3.4% increase from FY24.

She discussed the process for the budget that included a comprehensive review, reorganization and refinement of operations.

There is currently a wage and classification study underway to help the town attract and retain its workforce while also creating transparency and equity in decision making.

Wong added that she doesn’t know the last time that town conducted one of these studies and that “this has been a thorough process, and the idea is to actually then work with staff and create job descriptions. There are a lot of staff that don’t have job descriptions so that we can clearly understand our biggest asset and what they do.”

South Hadley is working on creating a Human Services Department that will include the Senior Center, recreation and veterans.

Wong added that the residents should notice little change as the programs and services will remain the same.

There will be new staff and the town is looking to hire a senior services director. There will also be youth and families at the Senior Center but not during normal business hours.

For the reorganization aspect, the town is looking to align its fiscal strategy with major initiatives such as moving towards digitization, more data and needs-driven human service programs and implementing long term capital and maintenance planning.

“The digitization and digitalization is at least a five-year project and major undertaking for transforming the operations and processes of town government. It’s going to be over a $1 million project, and we are moving staff away so we can create both online services and processes and be able to reduce paperwork and have more transparent system,” Wong said.

In terms of refinement, there was a recent public approval to conduct a public safety staffing study as well as finalize job descriptions and explore new positive revenue streams.

Most revenues and expenditures are set to increase except for the Human Services Department, Public Works and Health Department.

Public Works is decreasing but Wong said there is two positions the town added that they have not been filled.

The Health Department budget is decreasing 12% due to combining two positions into one and shifting other positions to grants. The Health Department budget is proposed to decrease by approximately 7% due to one layoff.

There are also some personnel changes embedded in the budget that include turning two Council on Aging positions that are not funded to be combined to one senior service coordinator position.

Additions also include two regional health positions that are funded by grants, one local enforcement position and police crisis intervention staff also funded by grants.

No vote was taken at either meeting as the budget is still set to be discussed at appropriations meetings.
Wong discussed the next steps and said that she will be hosting multiple open houses for the budget where people can stop by, view the budget and ask more questions.

Wong added, “I encourage more people to come because there’s a lot more discussion. Town administration will be here before Select Board meetings if you want to come, bring your questions and talk through issues.”

For those looking to view budget documents or open house dates, you can find it at www.tinyurl.com/4suahkka.

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