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Committee sets tone for 2010-2011 budget season

May 19, 2010
The Budget Committee held an organizational meeting last Thursday night to set some ground rules for next budget season.

Along with new members Philip "Pat" LaBonte and David Horvath, selectmen representative Gus Benavides and School Board representative Paul Blandford will now sit on the committee.

Before the committee voted for Dick Hickok to serve as chairman again, and Skip Murphy as vice chair, one member of the committee felt certain items needed to be addressed.

"You always listen to everyone and you never miss a meeting, and I have found that you have flexibility (when it comes to votes)," said Kevin Roy.

Roy said he would still vote in favor of Hickok, but proceeded with some criticism.

Roy said in the past, members agreed that the chair of the committee would always have to vote, and that the chair should vote alongside other members. He pointed out that Hickok has preferred to opt out of votes at times, or waited for others to vote before breaking a tie.

Hickok explained that he took up this method at times to avoid ties, and that he didn't want to influence other members' votes. Still, he did agree to vote at all times, along with everyone else.

After votes were cast, Hickok explained the procedures of sub-committees to the new members, and said that this policy has been used for the past several years. Hickok said instead of holding about two longer meetings a week, members prefer to split up in groups, then go back to the committee as a whole with recommendations after meeting with and reviewing town and school budgets.

Committee member Terry Stewart said he understood the importance of the sub-committees, but he is still on the fence about whether or not these groups should make a recommendation with their presentations.

Stewart raised concerns over the committee's agenda as well, and asked if the larger agenda the group works off of the beginning of the year could be sectioned off and posted prior to each meeting for the convenience of the public.

"We want them to feel like they have some input, and the sub-committees are public as well," said Hickok, agreeing with Stewart.

LaBonte brought some of his own philosophies to the committee Thursday night.

"We need to bite the bullet, and start it here," said LaBonte, referring to saving money during next budget season.

LaBonte also said he felt that votes should not be made the same night that presentations are made in order to "digest" information after meetings, but Roy reminded him that the committee is responsible for looking over each budget and absorbing it ahead of time anyhow.

Hickok said some budgets may take more time than others, and if the committee ever felt they needed more time, he wouldn't hesitate to grant it, but would still like to avoid tediously long meetings.

Now that the Facilities Planning Committee is well under way with their police department and town hall expansion and renovations and plans to present the proposal to selectmen before submitting a warrant article, the town administrator requested that a Budget Committee member be appointed to the FPC.

Benavides said that as this project goes along, the more people involved the better when it comes to financial reviews. The volunteer member would be full-fledged, and the committee will most likely meet on a monthly basis.

After the committee took a few moments to figure out their schedule in the coming months, Terry Stewart agreed to take on the role as a Budget Committee representative for the FPC.

Committee members also agreed to invite outside agencies in financial need to present at a meeting if they so wished to, although members also agreed they would not set up a sub-committee for these agencies.

Members were divided into sub-committees for the town administration and technology budget, the town clerk/tax collector budget, and the Police, Fire, Planning, and Parks and Recreation Department budgets. Sub-committee members will also be responsible for the DPW budget and library budget this coming year.

Varney Smith
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