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Budget workshops begin as Belmont selectmen look for cuts


October 06, 2010
BELMONT — As Belmont selectmen looked at the preliminary 2011 budget two weeks ago, they asked department heads to make cuts that would help reduce the 7.6 percent increase. Last Friday they began a series of workshops to meet one-on-one with those department heads to discuss what reductions they were able to make.

Public Works Director Jim Fortin said he dug deep to find areas where he could make cuts. An initial glance at the total did not reflect any reduction, but Fortin explained that, per the request of the Budget Committee, each department now had employee benefit costs included in their total and not as the separate item previously shown in the first draft. Fortin said he was able to come up with a 6.6 percent reduction from his previous budget draft.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin said she worked with Fortin and together they were able to significantly reduce the DPW computer expenses.

"His department was scheduled for a new system in 2011 but we felt it could be deferred for an additional year," said Beaudin.

Other costs were cut after a mild winter and a "good highway season" where low contract costs brought some significant savings as well.

In his position Fortin also oversees water, sewer and waste services in the town, an area where he was able to make further adjustments. His revised draft dropped his initial figure from nearly $675,000 to $539,000 by eliminating the expense for proposed curbside trash pick-up and lowering the request for solid waste disposal fees.

Police Chief Vinnie Baiocchetti said his budget was "tight," and outside of contract renewals for radio repair and other requirements, he felt his revision was as low as he could go.

"Gas is a big expense in our department, and the price of tires went up," he said.

For capital requests Baiocchetti had only the cost of a new police cruiser. That cost is uncertain at this time as police departments move from the discontinued Crown Victoria model to the new Interceptor. Otherwise his presentation was for a flat budget in 2011.

Fire Chief David Parenti, who came to the Belmont department in July, said one thing he took seriously while preparing his first budget for Belmont was the possible use of ambulance revenues to offset expenditures for medical services. He would like to utilize $91,000 of that revenue to supply the department with medical equipment to aid in his operating budget. The Comstar account has been debated over the past few years but voters must approve expenditures from the account, usually reserved for major vehicle purchases, not supplies used on the ambulance calls that fund it.

Selectmen said that issue was better left for another time since it is controlled by regulations determined by voters and would require a warrant article to make any adjustments.

Parenti also suggested hiring a fire inspector and possibly combining the position with that of Code Enforcement Officer. Beaudin said they hoped to put both positions under the Fire Department budget, and while Parenti said he did all he could to accommodate the position through other cuts, it would require approximately $28,000 in salary alone. He said it is not unusual to find a retired firefighter qualified to perform both duties, though.

"I agree. I think there's a happy medium between a code enforcement person and a fire inspector position. Maybe sharing 30 hours a week," said board Chairman Ron Cormier.

While that could be considered in the future, whoever was to take the job would not be a firefighter out on calls, but doing inspections only.

Parenti also explained his request for money to purchase a Tablet PC for medical personnel. Currently they have to hand write information in the field then return to the station to type up their reports. Having the portable laptop computer to gather and send information from each call would allow them to return to service much faster, saving money in the long run.

Finally, the chief presented selectmen with a vehicle report, outlining his proposed use of emergency vehicles the town currently owns along with a projected plan for necessary replacements in the future. Selectman David Morse and Cormier asked to table that discussion along with his capital requests until Selectman Jon Pike was in attendance.

Cormier praised the department heads for "sharpening their pencils" in their reductions.

Final numbers will not be drawn up until wage and benefits increases are negotiated but, "so far, so good," said Morse.

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