Economy creates somber mood in Plymouth
June 11, 2009
Senator Reynolds heard the concerns of board members and Town Administrator Paul Freitas, who impressed upon her their frustrations surrounding plans to cut state revenue sharing with cities and towns by $25 million statewide, as well as the seeming insufficiency of federal stimulus monies to make up for this shortfall in many of our local communities.
On the eve of House and Senate Committee of Conference negotiations in which Senator Reynolds will play a significant role, she was able to report that the Senate version of the budget passed last week restored $54 million in Rooms and Meals Tax monies to cities and towns. The proposed cuts would have reduced revenue to the Town of Plymouth by $250,000 next year and slightly more the following year. The Senate bill also restores another $87 million in school building aid that was not included in the House version of the bill.
"School budgets are doing well as a result stimulus funds, Title I, and school building aid," said Sen. Reynolds. "This filters down to us in the towns, but not on the municipal side."
She indicated that the Senate version of the budget differs markedly from the House version in the constellation of revenue sources and taxes that will be used to build a balanced budget by July 1. The Senate version includes some additional revenue sources such as gaming licenses, which many Senators opposed but considered a necessary evil under the circumstances.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us. These are very difficult and challenging times, " said Senator Reynolds. She indicated that the overall state budget is likely to see a very small percentage increase while deep cuts in programs will most certainly occur. The State will close Laconia Prison, the Toby School and five District Courts, some in remote areas of the state. As many as 200 state employees will be laid off and furloughs are under consideration for the remaining staff. Retirees will see some adjustments in their benefits, but not as much as had been originally planned under the Governor's budget.
"There will be something to hate for everyone in this budget," commented Senator Reynolds. "On the other hand I am very proud of all the hard work that is being done in the intense and challenging negotiation. This is a terrible economic recession and we are all going to feel the pinch in our state and municipal taxes."
Plymouth Town Administrator Paul Freitas made an eloquent appeal for restoration of the remainder of revenue sharing funds to cities and towns.
"I think one of the biggest concerns that probably every town administrator, manager and mayor has is that we all prepared our budgets in March and were told that we would have a certain amount of money coming in from the state," said Freitas. "We could accept a change a year down the road, but I don't see how we are supposed to go in reverse. The Department of Revenue required us to build our budgets around a promise of state money and now I have to subtract as much as $400,000 of those dollars from my revenues. I can't see how the small towns are going to survive. It is almost as if the state has forgotten how the towns need to operate."
On behalf of his colleagues he also registered some concern about the seeming lack of readily available stimulus funds and the requirement for towns to come up with a 50 percent match for projects. "That leaves 50 percent that the cities and towns haven't saved or budgeted for," said Freitas. "I'm afraid some towns will take on debt they can't afford." Freitas said that he has been informed that Plymouth is too fiscally healthy to qualify for stimulus projects.
Senator Reynolds said that the Federal Stimulus funds are far from completely allocated and that there is still time for monies to come into the local area. She said she would do her best to ensure that every opportunity is taken to attract stimulus projects to local towns. It was remarked that the Governor's Director for Economic Recovery, Bud Fitch, was planning to attend the Thornton Select board meeting on Wednesday night to speak with local citizens about the status of stimulus funds. She suggested it might be possible to get him to visit Plymouth some time in the near future as well.
The Board also heard sad news from Tom Samyn representing Main Street Plymouth, Inc. on serious financial difficulties being experienced by the community development organization that over the past 10 years has undertaken some of the most ambitious and important projects in town. He said that fundraising troubles due to the terrible economic times have necessitated the closing of the Plymouth office and the laying off of Executive Director Paula Trombi. "She may stay involved on a volunteer basis to help out with certain projects," said Samyn. "We encourage that because she has done a great job for us. It all just comes down to cash flow. We do not see this as and end, just a change, and we hope that when the economy turns around we can come back again." He said that Main Street programs such as the summer concert series will continue as usual.
In other matters, the board heard from Fire Chief Casino Clogston about repairs that need to be made immediately to the roof of the Highland Street station. He said that rain damage from the roof and rotting sills are issues that cannot be postponed. The firefighters have themselves torn down chicken wire and removed some damaged insulation in an effort to save money on needed repairs. The board approved the bid and purchase order for the work to be done by Construx, Inc. for almost $40,000 in critical repairs
The next regular meetings of the board will be held on Monday, June 22 and July 13 at 6 p.m. in Town Hall.