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Meredith revenue shortfall could spell service cuts


January 13, 2010
MEREDITH — A projected $360,000 revenue shortfall will require more budget trimming, with selectmen taking a close look at possible cuts to services.

Town Manager Phillip Warren and Administrative Services Director Brenda Vittner presented the updated revenue information to the selectmen during the first of a series of budget workshops.

Warren said at a previous meeting he wanted to wait until the revenue figures were in before the start of the budget workshops. Warren and Vittner had the 2009 revenue information on hand at the beginning of budget discussions on Monday.

"We know that revenues are not going to be as robust as we hoped," Warren said.

At the close of the 2009 fiscal year, the town had a revenue surplus of $86,000 more than what was originally estimated.

The town received one-time revenues of around $32,000 in FEMA funding from the Summer 2008 floods and an $85,000 grant for the Longridge property. Warren said both these awards came as a surprise to the town. The town also saw $129,000 go back into the general fund after the parking expendable trust fund was closed out at least year's town meeting.

The additional revenues accounted for $246,000 that the town will not see again this year.

Meredith's non-property tax revenue is now estimated at around $4.5 million, which Warren said reflects a shortfall of $359,125.

Warren said to keep with this year's philosophy of not raising any more taxes another $360,000 will have to be cut from the overall budget.

"Now going forward there are some decisions that have to be made," Vittner said.

Warren said the selectmen's direction was to retain services. He advised the selectmen to look at holding items from the Capital Improvements Plan this year to save money and tackle the projects next year.

Warren recommended zeroing out unapproved projects, which could save $255,000.

"I support a robust Capital Improvements Plan, I recognize that capital improvements plans are not reoccurring plans, but they are the first thing to go," Warren said.

One such project is the Upper Ladd Hill Road Project, which will require analysis of the water system in the area to prevent the pavement from having to be dug up twice. The project is out to bid and Warren said he would not want to do it until the water and drainage in that area has been reviewed.

Warren also said there were no major issues with equipment, such as rust or breakdowns. It might be best for capital projects to take place in stronger economic times so the town can ride out leaner times, he said.

"Anything else would require cut in services," Warren said.

Warren said the Road Surface Management analysis in late 2009 rated the roads at 79 percent.

"That's an extremely high grade," he said. "Yes you could do improvements on it, (but) not at this time."

Most of the selectmen, however, said it might be inevitable that cuts will have to be made in services.

Board Chair Peter Brothers and Selectmen Miller Lovett said roads and other capital projects were withheld last year, which could lead to repercussions.

"I do believe that the flexibility we had last year has been ground out of the reserves," Brothers said.

Brothers said the town has had an aggressive equipment replacement practice and might not be able to handle any more deferment of equipment replacement. Deferment of capital projects would mean more money and effort to repair items.

Another possible way to cut back funds would be to take a closer look at several expendable trust funds, including the Waterfront Infrastructure Trust and the Main Street Rehabilitation Trust. The Main Street trust is also pending water system analysis.

Warren asked the board to give him specific suggestions on what areas of services could be trimmed back.

Selectmen Colette Worsman said the Parks and Recreation Department might be one area of savings. Selectmen discussed possible ways to work with this option, including possibly deferring $60,000 from the Child's Park project, raising fees for private non-resident users at the community center, or having programming alternatives that cost less money.

Selectmen said they would turn in their list of suggestions to Warren by Tuesday morning to be discussed at that evening's workshop.

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