February 13, 2014REGION — Area town officials have wrapped up their budget work, public budget hearings have been held, annual report books will soon go to print – all in preparation for town meetings set to be held across the region the second week of March.
The town warrant articles for Wakefield were covered last week. Since Wakefield is an SB2 town, both elected positions and warrant article will be voted by ballot on March 11.
Ossipee's budget season had been previously reported as tumultuous at best with officials trying to shave the proposed budget to offset the 183 percent increase in the cost of ambulance service for the town. Last year's contract amount was $199,000 and this year, $562,822. Officials had argued over how to make up the $363,822 increase by cutting costs in other areas of the budget. While the budget committee had wanted to trim the town's contribution to town employees' health insurance plans, selectmen won over that committee by foregoing any large projects, trimming back the road reconstruction budget, and dipping into the town's healthy surplus to partially fund the cost of the ambulance contract.
When Ossipee voters head to Town Meeting March 12 they will see that the budget committee now fully recommends the selectmen's proposed operating budget of $4,778,411. As for the warrant articles, the budget committee members voted unanimously to support the selectmen's recommendations including $413,000 for purchasing a new plow truck and repairing town roads, $25,000 for electrical upgrades to town buildings, $70,500 for purchasing two police cruisers, $19,000 for upgrading computer systems in various town departments, and the $80,000 final payment towards the Whittier Covered Bridge restoration project. It was a close vote, however, on the acceptance of the new three-year employee union contract and its associated cost increase of employee salary and benefits of $49,909 this year, $60,365 in 2015, and $65,340 in 2016. The budget committee voted five to four, narrowly passing the recommendation.
At their public hearing Feb. 5, the budget committee also signed off on the three fire precinct's proposed budgets. It is commonly said that the town's budget committee has no control over the fire precinct budgets but, nonetheless, in an apparent formality, committee members have to sign off on the budget that will then go to be voted on at each of the individual precincts'' annual meetings. The total cost to operate the town's three fire departments this year is $1,430,121 with Ossipee Corner's budget at $462,440; Center Ossipee $545,161; and West Ossipee at $422,520. Combine that with the cost of the ambulance contract and police protection and Ossipee taxpayers will shell out nearly $3 million for public safety services in 2014.
Few people attended the Feb. 5 budget hearing. Of the 17 in attendance, 12 were either employees, serve on one of the town boards, or are associated with a fire precinct. Bob Freeman did not join his fellow selectmen at the head table but rather sat in the audience with a fellow fire precinct commissioner. Frank Riley was the only one of the three selectmen's seat candidates who are running for election in March that attended the hearing.
If March town meeting voters in Effingham approve the $130,000 ambulance contract for 2014, two things will happen. One, the town will have an ambulance contract with CarePlus and two, Ossipee taxpayers will have to pay $130,000 less this year for their contract. Unlike Ossipee, however, Effingham budget-makers could not seem to find cuts to offset the 420 percent increase in the town's ambulance cost.
The total proposed bottom line, including Effingham's operating budget and warrant articles is $1,847,211 – an increase of $120,601 over the 2013 bottom line.
Selectmen are hoping the voters will go along with their $47,000 request to purchase a new police cruiser and give slight pay increases to the police chief and his officers.
With voter approval, selectmen will abolish four previously established funds totaling about $91,300, including the municipal garage building fund, public safety building fund, parks and recreation fund, and a technology development fund.
In warrant articles submitted by petition that will also be voted on at town meeting, Freedom Food Pantry is seeking $2,500, $50 is being sought to help with future maintenance of the Veteran Honor Roll at Lord's Hill, and the budget committee wants to increase its membership from six members to seven.
Effingham Town Meeting will be held March 15 at Effingham Elementary School.
Town meeting voters will meet on Tuesday, March 11, beginning at 9 a.m. in the second floor meeting room at Freedom Town Hall to cast their votes to decide the 2014 Freedom budget.
The selectmen are recommending a budget that is down from last year about $13,000 and totals $2,221.207. Some notable shifts in the budget include the trimming of the police department budget with a $60,000 reduction due to savings realized in salary and benefits when the department went from three to two full-timers. Freedom pays $37,000 annually for their contract with CarePlus and $133,050 for a fire department that now has a part-time rather than full-time chief. The cost to run the Freedom Highway Department is up about seven percent to $801,700. Judging by the proposed budget, selectmen appear to be taking an aggressive stance at eliminating the need to pay interest on tax anticipation notes. Typically, towns will borrow money to meet operating expenses in anticipation of property tax revenue coming in. Last year, Freedom taxpayers shelled out $29,857 for interest on this borrowing. This year, selectmen have budgeted only $5,000 for TAN interest.
Looking beyond the operating budget at some of the warrant articles that will also be voted on at town meeting, selectmen are asking for $124,000 for paving, sealcoating, and crack sealing town roads; $160,000 for a four-by-four wheeled loader for the highway department; $5,000 for a new fire alarm system for town hall; $5,000 to conduct a community survey; and $5,000 to conduct a "build-out" analysis to determine the total number of houses that can be built around Danforth Ponds and the Berry, Leavitt, and Broad Bays of Ossipee Lake.
A warrant article that has been submitted by voter petition that will also be voted on March 11 asks if the town will accept the Durgin Hill, a road that is currently privately maintained, as a town owned and maintained road.