SAUGUS — Eight weeks after Town Meeting opened, voters passed a $90,022,311 town budget Monday night that supports growing public safety departments.
Members wrapped up the final four articles on the warrant, but the meeting likely won’t be the last of the year. The Board of Selectmen will hear a request for a Special Town Meeting to be held for a member to read a non-binding resolution in support of the school custodians.
The budget passed Monday includes $29,575,250 for the School Department Operating Budget and a $60,477,061 Municipal Town Department Operating Budget.
The Police Department got a $798,373 bump in salaries from a $6,802,606 revised Fiscal Year 2019 budget to $7,600,979. Three new police officers will be hired to create a dedicated traffic unit within the department, said Town Manager Scott Crabtree.
A $346,939 increase in Fire Department salaries will cover the cost of hiring two new firefighters.
“We are hiring three additional officers with the idea that there will be a dedicated traffic unit or department,” said Crabtree. “But we want to see the study.”
An assessment on the police department is underway to look at staffing, the amount and nature of calls received, and an analysis of traffic in town. It will provide more insight on how to structure the unit.
“That’s one of the many things they’re looking at,” said Crabtree.
The town manager announced a townwide speed limit analysis would be conducted by The Engineering Corp., an Andover-based transportation, engineering and surveying firm, in March after dozens of residents petitioned the Board of Selectmen for lower speed limits.
The Board of Selectmen voted to lower the speed limit to 25 miles per hour on Lincoln Avenue, Essex Street, Main Street and Central Street, but Massachusetts Department of Transportation denied the request.
In a letter to selectmen, district highway director Paul Stedman wrote that revising the existing speed zones as requested “would not conform to the current speed regulations.”
For MassDOT to consider modifying these regulations, the town would have to submit proper documentation and data for the roadways under their jurisdiction.
The firm will work closely with the town over the next several months to identify and study areas where traffic volumes and speeds are a concern, and take a comprehensive look at suggesting speed limits for town streets and identify the best placement for accompanying signs.
Crabtree promised community meetings would be held for residents to give input.
Additionally, Interim Chief Ronald Giorgetti told petitioners that the police department would need funding for a dedicated traffic unit to enforce the new, lower speed limits in town.
To establish a dedicated traffic unit, Giorgetti said he would need to hire at least two or three more officers. He could not provide an estimated cost for the personnel change.
Monday night, Crabtree said the traffic study was pushed back because of budget season, snow and other complications. He expects a meeting to be held by the end of the month.
“We had speed limit signs that were out that weren’t the right speed limits,” said Crabtree. “We had to locate those and remove them. We couldn’t do the study with them.”