By BRIDGET TURCOTTE
SAUGUS — Town Meeting agreed to appropriate $1 million for the town’s parks and playgrounds Monday night.
Two articles passed pertaining to the parks: one for $500,000 to repair and maintain existing playgrounds and a second for $500,000 to add security, lighting and cameras to three parks – Bristow Street Park, Veteran’s Elementary School and Belmonte Middle School.
“It seems we’re spending a lot of money on things we don’t really need,” said William Cash, a Saugus police officer. “When the Town Manager gets up here and talks about priorities – I think police and fire deserve to be priorities. So far this year, we’ve given half a million to parks and playgrounds and it looks like it’s going to be another half a million. I read different things are being allocated in this article – $30,000 for seesaws and some sort of fire engine playground equipment. The priority should be more on the town employees than $100,000 on a lacrosse wall.
“Last night a police officer told me he’s collecting food stamps,” Cash said. “That is completely unacceptable and that needs to be a priority. We didn’t ask for much in our negotiations and we deserve to be treated a little bit better by our community.”
But Town Manager Scott Crabtree said the money will be used for much-needed repairs to parks, some of which haven’t seen updates in half a decade. Improvements to Stackpole field and removing apparatuses such as steel slides are on the list.
“We’re ready to start doing this work immediately so that people can enjoy (the parks) this spring rather than waiting for the Annual (Town Meeting) to close,” Crabtree said. “The Department of Public Works will produce a short list for each playground. There are still a lot of safety issues – kids are getting hurt.”
The second allocation will allow the installation of security cameras on the parks and around the perimeters of the parks and schools. The cameras will have remote access so police officers can monitor the parks on their laptops, Crabtree said.
Gregory Nickolas, director of Youth and Recreation, voiced his support for the motions. Nickolas said the fields are in deplorable conditions and many of the parks are dangerous.
A few Town Meeting members questioned why all of the articles had to be taken up in a special meeting and whether it had to do with tying up funds right out of the gate.
School Committee Member Peter Manoogian and several residents spoke about the School Department’s need for more funding and questioned whether the town really needed to move $1.5 million into the Stabilization Fund to maintain its bond rating or if a lesser amount would have the same effect. Many suggested cutting the number to $1.2 million and using the excess elsewhere, such as in the schools or to go toward the pumping station repairs. Parents hoped the money could be used to avoid the School Department’s proposed solution to closing the budget gap by closing the Ballard Early Education Center and increasing class sizes.
“Why couldn’t it have waited until Article 8 at the annual – was it to tie the money up? Perhaps,” said Manoogian.
Ultimately Town Meeting voted 35-3 to transfer the full $1.5 million in free cash to the fund.
Town Meeting members voted unanimously to support an article to borrow $4.3 million to fund the first two phases of improvement projects to the town’s main pumping station on Lincoln Avenue.
The station, constructed in the 1980s, has a poor design and is in need of a permanent bypass, said Crabtree. Saugus Public Schools was also allocated $82,000 for the one-time purchase of Chromebooks.
The annual meeting was suspended until next Monday, May 6, when members will take up the remaining issues.
Bridget Turcotte can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte