The Danvers Board of Selectmen Thursday night approved a $57.4 million budget for next year that included $32 million for schools and $10.2 million for public works projects.
The budget will be presented for approval to the Town Meeting on May 16.
The selectmen, who voted unanimously for the budget, praised Town Manager Wayne Marquis and assistant Town Manager Diane Norris for their work in assembling the budget.
“It has been much easier this year,” said Selectman Keith Lucy.
Prior to the hearing, the selectmen reviewed the proposed budgets for the police and fire departments and for the code administration department.
Police Chief Neil Ouellette outlined his budget of $5,672,603, saying violent crimes in town have continued to decrease. Property crimes, particularly home burglaries, increased, largely because individuals seeking money to buy drugs steal items that can be pawned. The chief said the police arrested several burglars at the end of last year, which may reduce the number of burglaries.
His budget includes buying four new police cruisers and 18 tasers. Earlier the police department had asked for five new cruisers, but will defer the purchase of one new car until next year.
The tasers are needed, the chief said, because the number of violent crimes against police officers has been rising.
The police chief said he believes that the use of tasers, within strict guidelines set out by the federal courts, will reduce incidents such as one last year when Officer Dana Michael Hagan was confronted with a man who threatened him with a chain saw. The incident could have been resolved much more quickly if the officers could have used a tazer to disable the man, Ouellette said.
He said he is proud to report that the number of auto thefts continues to drop. He noted that in the 1970s Liberty Tree Mall was known as the car theft capital of the East Coast.
The selectmen questioned the police chief on the amount of overtime paid to his officers. Ouellette responded that the department has had a number of long-term absences due to medical problems or injuries to officers on the job. Currently, there are eight officers that are off duty because of shoulder and knee surgeries. Some of the injuries were caused by assaults. Others were the result of “freak accidents.”
The town will likely have to supplement the current overtime budget for this year.
Fire department budget
Acting Fire Chief Kevin Farrell presented his budget of $4,256,924, as Marquis announced to the board that he expects to have selected a new fire chief by April 1.
Farrell, the deputy chief, who has been the acting chief for a year, spent much of his time Thursday night defending the adoption a year ago of 24-hour shifts for the firemen. The firemen work two 24-hour shifts one day apart and have almost five full days off.
Farrell said the 24-hour shifts have improved the morale of the fire personnel.
Board Chairman Michael Powers questioned the fire chief on what benefit has the town derived from the 24-hour schedules.
Farrell, supported by the town manager, said the schedule has reduced the number of sick days firemen used to take and that appears to be lowering the overtime pay required from the town.
“What a deal,” Powers said viciously.
He said, “So we have been blasting out our overtime budget for the last four years. And now we are not?”
Marquis projected that the town will save almost 30 percent of the overtime budget this year over previous years because of the shift to 24-hour shifts for the firemen.
Farrell also attributed the lower use of sick days to a new fitness regime the firemen are doing to build strength, endurance and reduce injuries. He said about 50 percent of the fire personnel are participating in the exercise and nutrition program.