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Town budget untouched despite attempts to cut

January 12, 2011
After over two hours of discussion and a slew of rejected motions to cut several items from the town budget, the Budget Committee ultimately left it as is.

At the conclusion of the town portion of the Budget Committee meeting last Thursday night, a majority of committee members voted in favor of recommending the proposed town budget, which stands at $11,208,404.

During a previous meeting, committee member Skip Murphy had said he planned to make numerous motions to amend the proposed town budget during this final meeting, as well as the school budget later on in the evening. He kept his promise, but all of his attempts failed.

Murphy targeted items such as merit wages for town employees and recommended cutting the entire $66,944 for merit pay from the budget. He also wanted to eliminate overtime for the Department of Public Works, the Police Department, and Fire Department, for a total of $174,221.

Murphy said that in light of hard times in the private sector, these sacrifices must be made. Board of Selectman representative Gus Benavides reminded him that town employees have made their own sacrifices and deserve a chance for merit pay.

"I understand and share your concerns in tough times. People are losing their jobs and their incomes are being cut in half, but the board presented a bare bones budget and cut every bottom line possible," said Benavides.

He pointed out that employees volunteered to give up their sick time last year, which was a week's cut in pay for each employee that saved the town $90,000. Benavides added that the 2-percent merit wages are also not a guarantee for every employee but must be budgeted.

"As a result of line by line cuts, we have come to a zero percent level funded budget. While we felt this was the best thing we could do, as employers, we need to take care of employees who have taken care of us," said Benavides.

During a discussion of merit pay, it was also noted by Selectman Kevin Hayes that if merit wages are taken away from non-union employees, it will only send the wrong message and push more departments to join unions, which is not in the town's best interest.

Benavides also expressed his distaste for doing away with overtime.

"We just cannot affect public safety and cut overtime from these departments. There is no way as a selectman that I can look residents in the eyes and say 'I cut these departments,'" said Benavides.

Committee member Terry Stewart said the town has worked hard the last two years to keep costs down, and that while overtime may seem like a large number, it is split between three departments. He said there was no gain in "killing the product," at the end of the day.

Both the motion to cut merit wages and overtime were overthrown by a majority vote.

Throughout the town portion of the budget meeting, Murphy also motioned to cut $12,640 in travel expenses from the budget, and $11,049 in memberships and dues. These two motions also failed.

At the end of the meeting the committee voted on various petitioned warrant articles. All warrant articles pertaining to the town's capital reserve fund were recommended by the committee, but outside agencies were not recommended this year.

Outside agencies included New Beginnings with a request for $2,000, Genesis Behavioral Health for $11,739, Community Health and Hospice for $25,000, and Child and Family Services for $3,500.

Salmon Press
Martin Lord & Osman
Alton School
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