Selectmen draw heat over proposal to cut $400,000
No residents support idea at budget hearing
January 20, 2010
LITTLETON—During Monday night's 3.5-hour bond and budget hearing, voters convinced the Board of Selectmen not to cut an additional $400,000 from the $7.8 million budget that would have meant laying off 10 town employees.
Board Chairman Eddy Moore brought the idea forward to gauge public reaction.
"This is not a motion, it's meant to start a discussion," Moore said. Moore was successful in eliciting sometimes passionate comments from many residents. Not one spoke in favor of the proposal.
The $400,000 figure was in response to a suggestion by the town budget committee that this year's town tax rate be no larger than last year's $6.90 per $1,000 of assessed value. Moore reached that figure by proposing to eliminate four firemen, three police officers, two Highway Department truck drivers and one transfer station employee.
There was nowhere else to cut in the budget except for personnel. For several years they had cut every other area but personnel, roads, sidewalks, "postponing the inevitable."
Residents were angry at the proposal.
"You're going to reduce my taxes by only pennies," said resident Jerry Sorlucco. "Get rid of the idea, it's stupid!"
Sharon Craigie told Moore that he and the others had no need to heed the budget committee's advice; they were the elected town fathers, not the committee. She said she saw the value of the Public Works Department, the Fire Department and the Police Department. Cutting those would affect her property values. She didn't so much see the value of the $1.5 million put into the Littleton Opera House.
"I think you're going in the wrong direction cutting my services," Craigie said.
Things got emotional when two residents of the Parker Village spoke up. Their apartments had been damaged during a fire Saturday night and they were unable to live there for the moment.
"All we have right now are our clothes," said Tracy Lockwood. "You cut four of his men and that place would have burned to the ground."
Tony Ilacqua, manager of the transfer station, said the selectmen would have to tell residents exactly what services would be lost if positions were cut.
"We can't run the transfer station on four people, we can barely do it on five," Ilacqua said.
In a more personal moment, Ilacqua spoke of the direct impact the Fire Department has had on him.
"You people talk about fires, I'm talking about lives," Ilacqua said. "Two times in the past year, without the Fire Department I wouldn't be here." Ilacqua then pointed at Steve Kelley and other members of the budget committee. "You people are nuts!"
Budget Committee Chairman Steve Kelley took the podium to defend the committee's work and said the committee members had done arduous, meticulous work.
"No one on the budget committee wants to cut people," Kelley said. He said the committee recommended a goal for the selectmen, it did not tell them how to meet that goal.
He said the current growth of town government and taxes is unsustainable and that even the most generous of taxpayers will say enough is enough in a few years.
All three selectmen agreed not to support the recommended cuts.
Other topics of conversation that drew considerable attention were the proposed warrant article asking voters to approve $600,000 to move the town offices from above Laconia Savings Bank to the Opera House. Voters questioned where the figure came from and whether this economy is a good time to consider spending that kind of money to move when it's likely a good deal could continue to be had at the present location.
Voters also questioned the selectmen's judgment wanting to spend that kind of money while proposing to cut $400,000 from the budget.
"It seems incongruous to cut $400,000 and spend $600,000," said resident Linda Massimilla.
The $600,000 would include the costs of moving, new office furniture—at a cost of between $20,000 and $30,000—refurbishing space for the town offices, as well as chairs and a new curtain for the Opera House's performance venue.
Several residents, including Mary Edick, questioned whether the performance venue in the Opera House could even be used yet without more work to the sound and electrical system.
Louise Smith said she thought money for the move and money for improving the performance venue should be separate warrant articles so people would have a better idea of costs.
John Simon said he thought the building was a bad use of town money. There is little parking at the site and it cannot be used for large events.
"What are we spending this money for?" Simon said.