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Littleton officials present budget overview

October 13, 2021
LITTLETON — Municipal budget season has officially begun. During the Littleton Budget Committee's first meeting last Thursday, town officials reported favorable numbers overall, despite a steep increase in welfare costs.

"Overall, the town is 5.52 percent under budget, and these numbers are through Aug. 31. However, we do have four areas that are over budget, and these were identified to the Board of Selectmen," stated Littleton Town Manager Jim Gleason.

The four over-budget departments include welfare, legal, human resources and advertising. Gleason noted that a $20,000 cost to remove a building was applied to the legal budget, as no correct line item existed for the project.

Increased personnel costs could be traced back to an increase in worker's compensation claims, added Gleason. He said the annual personnel budget was set for $67,000, but compensation costs exceeded $78,000.

Advertising overages were directly attributable to state statute requirements regarding public notices, noted the town official. He also said that the Littleton Fire Department exceeded its annual budget, primarily due to the addition of three new employees after last year's budgeting process. COVID significantly impacted both the advertising and Fire Department increases, he added.

Littleton's welfare department saw the most significant cost increases, specifically under the miscellaneous charges line item.

As Gleason noted, "Littleton has become the place that people come to when they have nowhere to stay."

Under New Hampshire state law, municipalities are responsible for hotel bills when the local shelters have reached capacity. Former Budget Committee Chair Steve Kelley noted that the group had taken that requirement into account during the upheaval of COVID last year.

"Last year, we had set up a reserve account for those costs, based on excess funds in previous years. It was pretty surprising to see that it was gone," stated Kelley.

During the August Select Board meeting, board member Milton Bratz noted that welfare payments had increased from $67,000 in 2019 to $191,700 in 2020. This year, the department saw an even higher level of welfare requests, with expenditures reaching 79 percent of the 2020 costs within the first eight months.

"A lot of communities are having this problem because people are losing their homes and places to stay. And it's going to get worse because all the mandates are over," said Bratz.

Thus far, Littleton has received $307,000 in federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding, of which approximately $125,000 was applied to welfare costs. Littleton will receive an additional $370,000 next year, noted Gleason.

"COVID really impacted us in the welfare area. If you annualized out what we've spent this year, that data will come to over $300,000. We've got a $25,000 line item for welfare, and every year we have that $25,000 line item. We need to talk about changing the policy because the reality of what we're experiencing here is well beyond that $25,000," noted Kelley.

Last week's Budget Committee meeting was the first of many in an aggressive schedule leading up to the annual Town Meeting in early March. This year marks the second season of the Committee's holistic approach to municipal and school district funding and appropriation needs. The seven-member group, led by Chairperson Diane Cummings, attempts to keep both systems operational with the least amount of taxpayer impact.

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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