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Budget Committee studies selectmen's budget proposal

December 15, 2010
TILTON — Tilton's Budget Committee sat down with selectmen last week for a presentation of the board's $4,618,374 operating budget for Fiscal Year 2011, a 5.2 percent decrease over the past year.

Selectmen said they worked diligently with department heads toward meeting the goal of a lower budget for the coming year and were quite pleased with the results.

On hand to assist in their explanation was Finance Director Tim Pearson who placed the budget in its current format for the board and moved around some lines, he said, to make the budget easier to read and understand.

While many lines under the Administration section had large decreases, the 72-percent increase in the Election/Registration line and the 108-percent increase for equipment rental immediately caught the committee's eye.

Selectman Pat Consentino and Pearson explained a mandatory 10-year purge of the voter registration records accounted for one increase while service contracts and supplies for a new copier and other equipment raised the other. Selectmen had significant savings in other areas of the Administrative budget however, one of which was their decision to leave only one dollar in the line for payment to Lakes Region Public Access for broadcast of town meetings.

"We're looking at other options for next year for the voters to decide on at Town Meeting," said Consentino.

Committee member Scott Davis cautioned the board to remember not everyone has a computer at home to view town broadcasts and they should look carefully when contemplating another provider for public access to meetings.

Belair said she was disappointed to see a change in the status of Town Administrative Assistant Catherine Woessner from hourly pay to a salaried position. Consentino explained the select board was looking to decrease the amount of overtime Woessner has accrued by placing her on salary. Woessner agreed to the change even though it would mean less money for her annually.

"We gave her a $9,000 increase in pay but ultimately it will save $4,000," she said.

So far this year Woessner received $12,000 in overtime for her work with the select board and as an assistant to the town's welfare director. Selectman Sandra Plessner said the board could take some of the blame for the overtime because of their late meetings and heavy workload this year. A salary made more sense since it meant a savings to the town, she said.

"We've been looking at this from a practical point of view. We live here and pay taxes, too," she said.

Belair agreed that holding the "massive over time" made sense but asked selectmen to keep in mind the other consequences that go along with payrolls.

"For every dollar there is an additional 50 cents paid out for FICA, Medicare and other expenses," she said.

Technology services were moved from the Administrative and Town Clerk/Tax Collector budgets when the board decided to cancel services previously provided by an outside contract. Those responsibilities were placed under Pearson's job description, increasing his salary by $5,000 for the extra work load.

Again Consentino explained that despite a rise in his salary, the move was still saving the town an additional $4,000 after terminating the previous $9,000 outside contract. Belair agreed that Pearson was worthy of handling the town computer systems with his experience but was concerned the job may become too much for one person to handle. Plessner said the board has already had that discussion with Pearson and he agreed to advise them if it ever became overwhelming.

"He prioritizes everything though and schedules the tech work to fit around days when he's not so busy," Plessner said.

The police department's budget was examined closely. Belair said she could not understand how wages could be level funded with the promotion of two men to lieutenant positions. Selectmen explained that the loss of a captain, loss of overtime for the two men in the lieutenant's positions, and the return of Corporal Norman Ashburn from military duty allowed their budget to remain flat. The chief has asked for a part-time officer to assist in shift change but otherwise there were no other changes within his department.

Compensated absence pay was frozen and merit pay was decreased to include only the chief and lieutenants positions. All other merit raises would have to be a result of a town warrant article.

Negotiations for the police department's union contract are ongoing and Davis said he would be following those talks.

"When you get to Town Meeting I want you to be prepared to read the new contract aloud so there are no ifs, ands or buts about what's being presented to the townspeople," Davis told selectmen.

The highway department also presented figures to the select board reflecting a 4.1 percent decrease and Belair sent congratulations to Dennis Allen for "running a tight ship."

Completion of the Master Plan helped lower the overall operating budget and most outside agency requests were level funded or cut in the selectmen's proposal. The only exception was an increase from $500 to $1,500 for the N.H. Association for the Blind. Consentino explained there were now more services being provided to Tilton residents for other vision impairments such as macular degeneration and the board felt their request was reasonable under those circumstances.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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