CAMBRIDGE — The Dorchester County Council presented its proposed county budget for fiscal year 2018 in a public hearing at the Tuesday biweekly council meeting. Though the requested budget shows no surprises overall, two line items in the proposed FY18 budget add approximately $18.5 million to last year’s adopted budget of $68,299,613.
The two items proposed are the construction of the new North Dorchester High School, and replacing the entire two-way radio system across the Public Safety department.
The line item for the new North Dorchester School is $11,899,354, and replacement of the radio system is marked at $10,000,000. County Manager Jeremy Goldman explained to the Banner that the $10M figure was a placeholder, and that it was hoped that the radio system would come in at less than the full amount.
School Superintendent Dr, Henry Wagner spoke to the Council during the public input time allotted during the public hearing.
“We continue to cherish the exceptional partnership between Dorchester County Public Schools and the Dorchester County Council,” Dr. Wagner said. “On behalf of the entire Board of Education, we would like to acknowledge and thank you for proposing $11,899,354 for the replacement North Dorchester High School. With the state funding apparently in place … we will be able to proceed with year two of construction, as long as the proposed local allocation remains in place. And as we know you know, the entire North Dorchester community is counting on that, and counting on you.”
Taking the moment to deliver an impromptu goodbye message, Dr. Wagner, who is retiring as superintendent this year, went on to say, “On a personal note, I want to thank you for embracing this very important project, which, as you know, is one of my second term priorities. Also I’d like to thank you for all the kindness and support you have shown me, both personally and professionally over the last 10 years.”
DCPS President Philip Bramble also spoke, to thank the board and also thank Dr. Wagner for his service, saying “I know we’re going to miss him, and I believe the county will miss him as well.”
There were no comments from the public on the expenditures for the new NDHS nor the massive expenditure coming up for the replacement radio system. In a private conversation following the meeting, County Manager Goldman did comment, “Oh there will be comment on it at the next meeting, you can bet on that. You can’t have a line item that large without attracting attention.”
The county manager went on to explain that the radio replacement was not a surprise to anyone. He pointed out that the various departments in the county (police, fire, emergency management) have been nursing along a completely outdated system for years, knowing that replacement was eventually inevitable.
“The system is outdated, and no longer serviceable from Motorola. The public safety radio system has to work all the time, and one of the things we pay a lot of money to Motorola for every year is maintenance and service. This radio system is years past its service life, and at the end of the day, we have to replace the radio system.”
County Manager Goldman said that the largest cost of the upgrade is the physical radios themselves, and the operator consoles to manage them.
“Each one of those little walkie-talkies the guys carry,” he told us, “they’re $6,500 each. Think about how many fire companies there are, think about how many police officers there are. Each one of those consoles in the 911 center are $60,000. Believe me, this is going to be well publicly discussed in future meetings.”
The new year’s budget is based on an operating budget of $57,455,340, versus 2017’s operating budget of $57,094,622. Capital expenditures for 2017 were $8,071,358; which increases to $26,271,170 for FY18 including the new school and radio system. The proposed total expenditures for FY18 is $86,002,807 versus 2017’s adopted total of $68,299,613.
Projected operating revenue for FY18 remains virtually flat at $57,455,340, compared to the adopted operating revenue of 2017 of $57,094,622. Grant income is expected to remain nearly unchanged at $2,276,297 versus $3,133,633 for FY17. The county expects to issue bonds to cover the $18.5 million shortfall for the school and radio system.