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Selectmen make 'gut-wrenching decisions' in 2011 budget

Police station project put on hold

October 06, 2010
During the first of many Budget Committee meetings for the 2011 budget process, the Board of Selectmen presented the committee with an $11.5 million budget proposal overview Thursday night.

Selectmen Chair Kevin Hayes said in order to keep the budget level funded and to avoid the tax rate from increasing, the selectmen had to make some "difficult and gut wrenching decisions" in the last couple weeks.

The board's recommended $11,509,379 is $4,375 less than 2010's appropriations.

The selectmen said the largest increases and difficulties within the budget stemmed from health insurance and dental insurance rates. The town has budgeted for a 9.2 percent increase in health insurance rates and a 3.7 increase for dental insurance, based on figures within the past three years.

Hayes explained that the increase in insurance costs is partly due to a shortfall in the 2010 budget, at approximately $103,000 to cover the gap.

"We are exploring options to re-group and reduce premium costs over all," said Hayes.

Merit pay for town employees has been lowered for the 2011 budget by $6,000 due to the elimination of merit pay for department managers, including the town administrator's "frozen" pay. Merit pay has also lowered from 3 percent to 2.75 percent for employees still eligible.

Hayes said the selectmen are still opposed to eliminating merit pay for non-union employees on the principle that labor unions are guaranteed merit pay.

"The non-unions need to keep some parity with the union employees," said Hayes.

Due to staff reductions in the 2011 budget, a transition in some employees due to retirement, and the elimination of salary stipends for selectmen, the overall amount budget for wages has also dropped by $121,624.

Hayes said staff reductions were difficult decisions to make. The selectmen recommended that the 24 hour per week assistant town clerk-tax collector position be eliminated, as well as a 10 hours per week reduction in part time Parks and Recreation Department staffing, and the elimination of a full time employee in the Planning and Land Use Department, to be replaced with a part time, 20 hour per week position with no benefits. These reductions are estimated to save the town $75,000.

Some capital expenditures and special projects have also been eliminated from the 2011 budget, including the $1.4 million Town Hall Energy Conservation and Police Station Expansion project.

"We are not bringing forward the plans this year. Even though the burden wouldn't face us until 2012, we felt it was not time to bring a $1.4 million project to the taxpayers," said Hayes.

Other projects may be eliminated or reduced in funds, including the elimination of a new $5,000 cemetery maintenance capital reserve fund, although selectmen still support the cause, the elimination of the $25,000 highway equipment fund, the $50,000 bridge fund, $22,000 in the recreation facility maintenance fund, $25,000 in funds for Department of Public Works and Police Department radio system upgrades, and the recommendation of one rather than two police cruiser purchases, resulting in a reduction of $30,000, among other reductions and eliminations.

Hayes also addressed possible Liberty Hill litigations, and said while expenses and actions are still uncertain, the selectmen have recommended reducing finances to cover unforeseen legal expenses from $57,000 to $40,000.

While the Budget Committee seemed to have no real concerns with the proposed 2011 budget and acknowledged that the selectmen and department managers worked hard to keep the budget level, the selectmen expressed their grievances for having to make position cuts.

Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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