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A tight budget predicted for Meredith


October 20, 2010
MEREDITH — Maintaining current service levels with no significant cost increases is the town manager's major goal in entering the budget process.

Since 2009, Meredith's budget has aimed for level services with no increase in taxation. A large reason for this has been reductions in revenue, especially from motor vehicle registrations and Rooms and Meals tax, among others.

Further cuts were made during the 2010 budget process, especially in Parks and Recreation and the highway department. There was also no step or cost of living increases and a position at town hall remained vacant, resulting in longer wait times.

Several items are still being held, including a new police cruiser.

"Through all this the employees here in town have performed exemplary service under these times," Town Manager Phil Warren said at the selectmen's meeting Monday.

Warren presented his recommendations for the direction of this year's budget, considering the 2008 budget as an "index" for not exceeding the taxation amount.

Warren recommended that the 2010 service levels be maintained, which reflects a reduction in services from the 2008 index level. The recommendation calls for no new positions or reclassifications with vacancies due to voluntary separation not being automatically filled.

No new programs or services are recommended. The recommendation also put a hold on equipment purchases unless they were critical to a department and maintaining the capital improvement program as much as the budget would allow. Reductions will be seen to debt service payments and warren recommended that those reductions be applied to capital expenses.

Selectmen Peter Brothers and Miller Lovett expressed their support for capital improvements and addressed their concerns with how they are easily cut.

"It bothers me that we're missing something that normally we'd be taking care of," Lovett said.

Warren said capital expenses the town has no control over can be expected. Another major concern is change of law, which could create problems

The recommendation also addressed a concern about funds being encumbered from the prior year and applied to the coming year's budget for the purpose of appropriation. Warren recommended against this practice and recommended that encumbrances only apply to projects or purchases in process that cross fiscal years.

"There's going to have to be some pain because we're going to have to curtail these projects," Warren said.

As Warren wrote that he would seek the Board's guidance on COLA and step increases as the 2009 budget included a 2.5 percent COLA but no step increases.

"There's no elasticity in this budget and unfortunately there probably won't be in the next three coming years," Warren said.

Selectman Peter Brothers complimented the employees for their service despite the challenges. Brothers said the town needs to keep an eye on the other parts of the tax rate, especially from the school district and the county. Another lingering factor is the Winnipesaukee River Basin project. Brothers said the town needs to make its voice heard on all these factors.

"It's part of the game that needs to be played," Brothers said.

Board Chair Chuck Palm said the board has also been working with the school district, which also means dialogue with the other towns.

Warren said he would next meet with the department heads and formulate the budget.

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