Ossipee budget mostly set, but property tax bills delayed

December 05, 2013
OSSIPEE — Selectmen here are proposing a nearly level-funded 2014 operating budget for the town. However, there is one major piece missing from their proposed budget that has been a struggle to finalize the new ambulance contract.

According to Ossipee Selectmen Chair Harry Merrow, at least two ambulance contract bids were received by the Dec. 2 deadline and were set to be opened at the selectmen's meeting that same day. The selectmen's meeting was cancelled, when according to Merrow, he had discovered the meeting notice had not been posted 24 hours in advance as required by law. Merrow said the bid proposals will be opened at the selectmen's Dec. 9 meeting and will likely be taken under advisement before the board makes a decision about which company to award the contract to.

This is the second attempt at the bid process as selectmen decided to sharpen their pencils and revamp the request for proposals after two bidders' submitted bids earlier this fall that were well above the cost selectmen expected. Merrow said CarePlus has agreed to provide ambulance coverage to Ossipee on a month-to-month basis to allow the board until April to enter into a long-term contract with a provider. Selectmen have started talks with Effingham selectmen to determine the feasibility of entering into a joint contract with that town.

Ossipee voters approved $199,992 at March town meeting to pay for the 2013 ambulance contract with Ossipee Valley EMS. Selectmen decided earlier this year to terminate the town's contract with that company and have been paying CarePlus a monthly stipend for ambulance coverage. As of Dec. 2, the town had shelled out $204,994 for ambulance service in 2013. By the end of the year, that total will be $227,077.

Selectmen setting the proposed operating budget is only a portion of the process. The budget then goes to the town's Budget Committee for their review and recommendations. Selectmen also have to vote on their proposed warrant articles, amounts of money for specific purposes above the operating budget. The Budget Committee reviews those as well and prepares a final operating budget that is what voters will vote on at March town meeting.

The bottom line of the selectmen's proposed 2014 operating budget, without any funds for an ambulance contract, is $4,506,226. This is compared to the 2013 operating budget of $4,578,767, a number that included the ambulance contract amount.

A review of the proposed budget reveals most of the departments maintaining relatively level-funded budgets. In 2014, the police department is predicted to top the $1 million mark for the first time with the inclusion of the part-time resource officer added by voters last year whose main focus is patrolling Ossipee Central School. With that added position, the police department budget is proposed at $1,018,094.

One notable exclusion from the budget is the annual request by Agape Ministries for $9,500 to help offset the operation of that organization's food pantry in Ossipee. That group did not submit a request for funding this year. Early reports indicate they may be opting to move away from asking the taxpayers for money at Town Meeting and opting instead to rely on their thrift store and the generosity of the community to continue their mission of feeding the area's needy.

This is in sharp contrast to the $13,000 selectmen are proposing that voters approve for the food pantries in Freedom and Wolfeboro. Representatives from both of those pantries met with selectmen last month and reported that a high percentage of clients served at their locations are from Ossipee. Freedom Food Pantry had requested $5,000 and L.I.F.E. Ministries Food Pantry in Wolfeboro had requested $2,500 but on a motion by Selectman Richard Morgan those requests were bumped up to $8,000 and $5,000, respectively.

There is a notable increase in the town administrator salary as two salaries overlap at the beginning of the year to account for one person retiring and a new person taking her place. Ossipee Town Administrator Martha Eldridge will be retiring in February after nearly 29 years working in the selectmen's office. Her position was advertised in-house only earlier this fall and the town's assessing clerk, Ellen White, was promoted to town administrator. White's salary increase took effect immediately for the new position as she trains to take over the job. White comes to the position with two and a half years' municipal experience working in the selectmen's office and at a salary of $55,000 per year, compared to Eldridge's $66,000 annual salary.

In another job vacancy that was advertised in-house only, Cory Ryder is the town's new assessing clerk. He previously worked part-time for the town, splitting his hours between the recreation and highway departments. Selectmen have said previously they do not plan to advertise that now vacant position until the new year, a position that will likely also be advertised in-house and not for the general public.

As of press time, Dec. 3, it was reported that the property tax bills were finally ready to be sent out after a long delay with setting the town's property tax rate. While the tax collector's office is charged with printing and mailing the tax bills and then collecting the taxes, the responsibility for setting the tax rate and getting the information across the hall falls to the selectmen's office. The tax rate setting was particularly late this year, making the tax bills due Jan. 7, 2014. When reached by telephone Dec. 3 and asked about the reason for the delay, Merrow said West Ossipee Fire Precinct was late getting their required paperwork in and there was some sort of delay caused by the town's auditing firm, though he was not specific about what that delay was.

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