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Committee digs into new town budget

October 07, 2009
With a preliminary budget coming in about .05 percent lower than last year's, the town has strived to tighten its belts, the Budget Committee acknowledged, but also voiced concerns over increases in wages and benefits.

Selectman Kevin Hayes gave the Budget Committee Chair Dick Hickok an overview of the town budget at the committee meeting last Thursday.

"We cut, cut, and cut. We tweaked this and that, but bottom line, we strived to keep increases at zero," said Hayes. "We want to keep the budget at 0.0 percent. Overall we did what we had to, to get to 0.0 percent growth. That's it in a nutshell."

Hayes added that the town did not cut personnel, but did not create additional positions either, and although some departments came and asked for more money, the town had to say no in most cases.

The Highway Department out of Public Works budget was cut by $75,000. The new Cemetery Trustees were not given their requested $14,000 for cemetery maintenance, although the trustees may request this money again at a later date since their hard work has been recognized, according to Hayes.

The police department and library trustees have seen a few cuts as well, but the planning department and town clerks remain in the clear.

Hayes also pointed out that department heads have been diligently looking for savings. The DPW saved the town $284,746 this year, for example. DPW Director Sheldon Morgan took the state price for salt this year and saved $12,000 off of that, said Hayes. "They (the departments) are trying to save pennies every day. People are working on this every day," said Hayes.

School Board Chair Margo Weeks added that Assistant Superintendent Scott Isabelle has diligently worked on the school budget for days on end as well.

The School Board also plans to give back $1 million from their budget thanks to unanticipated funds from special education this year, which usually carries an expensive price tag, according to Weeks.

Finance Director Geoff Ruggles said that the School Board is not likely to see such unanticipated funds next year and that he plans to use more fund balances to off set any revenues for next year and monitor the tax rate with an undesignated fund balance currently at $4.6 million.

"The chances are good they won't turn back anything near that ($1 million) next year. Do we use, or how much fund balance do we use, without having taxes go up or postponing a spike?" said Ruggles. "It's a long, big picture to look at and figure out."

Appropriations in the overall town budget comes to $11,453,835, which is almost $500,000 less than all departments requested and $634,000 less than the number Town Administrator Scott Dunn had proposed.

Budget Committee member Doug Lambert said he was concerned over the 3 percent increase of wage raises in the budget, and committee member Terry Stewart agreed.

"I applaud the budget, but wages and benefits are the hugest part of the budget. That's a hard pill to swallow for some," said Stewart. "Some are getting benefits, and some are not. But I can see you made sacrifices somewhere else."

He addressed the fact that some workplaces are still cutting employee wages 5 percent or so, and that not everyone is entitled to health benefits such as 401K contributions right now.

Hayes reminded Stewart that unions are involved from various town departments. Dunn added that a lot of employees are also contributing 10 percent to their own health insurance needs, and that non-union employees would contribute 1 percent a year, until they make their way to 10 percent. The police department also plans to contribute 10 percent to their health insurance by 2011.

Delta Dental insurance was extended to part-time employees last January, said Dunn, who said it is a good idea because part-time employees save the town money and it is incentive for more employees to stay.

Dunn also addressed the police station expansion and the bonded town hall plan, and explained that the plan was a work in progress, although it was not currently in the present budget. The plan would be mapped out in two phases between 2010 and 2011 and would cost an estimate of $1 million, although no official decisions have been made, said Dunn.

Dunn said he is hoping the project will not go over $1 million, because otherwise they would have to cut costs from the plan.

Committee members also pointed out the 10-percent increase in the fire department's budget and asked if the new fire-rescue training facility was included in the budget.

Dunn noted that the fire inspector was not fully funded at 30 hours last year, but that he would be fully funded this year, which explained part of the budget increase.

Hayes mentioned that the department also wished to extend the life of one of their rescue vehicles, but insisted that funding for the training facility is not in the current budget.

"They (the fire department) promised it would not cost the taxpayers any money. To answer your question, there's nothing in the budget tied to that facility," said Dunn.

The committee also discussed the supervisors of checklist and foresees them asking for more funds, although Hickok said he would rather avoid this meeting for now, since the supervisors have placed the same complaints in recent years.

The committee will continue to review the town budget and then the school budget within the next few sessions.

North Country Environmental
Martin Lord Osman
Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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