West Ossipee voters haggle for six hours and settle on level-funded budget
|WEST OSSIPEE ELECTED officials took the oath of office following the precinct meeting last Saturday, Jan. 22. Looking on from behind the group is Commissioner Paul Jay. In front, from left to right, are Treasurer Raymond Boutin, Commissioner Greg Howard and Clerk Marilyn Bolduc. Boutin has served the precinct as treasurer for many years and was re-elected to a one-year term. Howard defeated Henry Ela in a vote of 32-22 and will serve as commissioner for three years. Bolduc ran unopposed and will serve as clerk for one year. (Mellisa Ferland photo) (click for larger version)|
January 27, 2011OSSIPEE — About 70 people showed up to West Ossipee Fire Precinct's annual meeting last Saturday, Jan. 22, with the majority ready to cut the precinct's proposed $538,400 budget.
It was a record voter turnout. The January 2010 meeting attendance was 18, an impressive number, since in years prior the average attendance was about 10 voters, including the chief and the five elected officials.
On a secret ballot, voters approved cutting the chief's annual salary from $60,000 to $48,000 with a vote of 35-30. By a show of hands they reduced the payment for his family health insurance plan from $22,710 to $16,000.
Selectman Morton Leavitt, a West Ossipee resident, said based on the fire department study the town paid for last year, $60,000 for a full-time fire chief is not an unreasonable amount. As for the meeting in general, Leavitt said, "One reason we are here is we didn't live up to our responsibility in the past. Now we are here making cuts. How can we be sure that we are making cuts in the right places?"
Voters ignored a motion to cut the fire department secretary line out completely but agreed to cut it from $23,400 to $12,000. There was a failed attempt later in the meeting to add more money to this line after voters had the opportunity to hear of the increased work this secretarial/bookkeeping position will require following recommendations by the precinct's auditor.
Voters were reminded several times that the line-by-line cuts they were making were merely suggestions to the commissioners and the real budget number the commissioners get to work with in 2011 is the bottom line. Commissioners have the power to move that money around between categories if that's what they choose to do as long as they vote on the money move at one of their regular meetings, said the precinct's attorney Susan Slack.
That message became very clear when Commissioner Paul Jay went on record to say, "We are not going to pay the Chief less than $60,000."
After hours of questions and deliberation, and only half of the budget finished at that point, Tom Kondrat made a motion to end the budget discussion and to set the 2011 budget at $491,267, the same as the 2010 approved budget. The goal was to reach some sort of compromise and end the daylong meeting. "We are simply trying to send a message to the commissioners to be more efficient," said Kondrat.
The 2011 budget is now $47,000 less than the proposed budget; just about the amount of the precinct's building bond payment which the meeting did not go on long enough to discuss paying.
Commissioners and the fire chief will now be charged with trying to find where to cut the budget to avoid overspending the bottom line.
Normally occurring at the beginning of the precinct meeting, voters chose to move the election of officers to after the budget discussion. Incumbent Henry Ela was nominated as well as Greg Howard. Steve Moore said in his nomination of Howard, "I know very little about Greg, but he is on top of all the numbers. He is fair, self-employed and knows how to spend and save a dollar. He has a hardworking wife and raised two nice kids they are putting through college. [I] think he would be a great addition to the commission board." Howard and Moore are part of a group of concerned taxpayers from the West Ossipee aviation communities of Windsock and Soaring Heights that first began attending precinct monthly meetings on Dec. 29, 2010, when they noticed a sizeable increase in the precinct portion of their property tax bill.
Those who spoke in favor of Ela asked voters to consider that Howard had only very recently become interested in the workings of the fire precinct compared to Ela who worked his way up, gaining knowledge of fire department and precinct operations, by first serving as a firefighter for many years.
The meeting attendance had dwindled by a third when the elections were held and on a secret ballot vote, Howard was elected to a three-year term on a vote of 32-22. Precinct treasurer Raymond Boutin and moderator Stanley Brothers ran unopposed and were re-elected.
Former one-term clerk Marilyn Bolduc was unopposed and re-elected to that position after current clerk Heather Wrigley declined to accept a re-nomination for the position. During earlier debate on the budget, voters cut the clerk salary from $6,000 to $500 and the treasurer's salary from $6,000 to $1,200. Unlike the rest of the salaries in the precinct's budget, those two cannot be adjusted back to their previous amounts by commissioners because by law the commissioners have no control over elected officials' salaries. By state law, the clerk is only required to conduct elections, take minutes of the annual meeting and keeping the precinct records. The salary had been increased during Bolduc's first term because that position also included taking minutes at all commission meetings throughout the year, as well as scheduling, posting notices, advertisements, and all correspondence for the commissioners.
In the final order of business, voters approved switching from the current model of elections where nominations are taken from voters at the meeting. Starting next year, candidates will have to sign up a month in advance and voters will go to the polls to make their selection. Commissioners chose to put this on the warrant to allow voters an opportunity to "get to know the candidates" prior to the election.
There has been increased discussion within this precinct on the need for commissioners from all three fire precincts to meet regularly and come to agreement, a unified stance, for addressing the outcome of the study on consolidation of the three fire departments. Budget committee representative Roland Millette encouraged anyone who has not done so to read the study.
West Ossipee Commissioners meet the first Monday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Central Station on Route 16. West Ossipee is the only precinct currently that posts their meeting minutes, annual report, and audit report on the town's Web site, www.ossipee.org.
The other two precincts, Center Ossipee and Ossipee Corner, will have their annual meetings in the coming months, with Center Ossipee's budget now posted for their Feb, 24 meeting at 7 p.m. at that fire station and Ossipee Corner's being held in March.
Following a minimally attended hearing, Ossipee Budget Committee has approved Center Ossipee's proposed 2011 budget of $459,969. The regular operating budget amounts to $387,300 of that total. Commissioners are also seeking $21,600 be added to the New Equipment and Apparatus Expendable Trust for future purchases. The money to be added is to be taken from fund balance and from the sale of the rescue truck and not raised through taxes.
Additionally, $51,069 of the total budget represents the salary and benefits of a full-time firefighter as the precinct plans to apply for a grant for that this year. If the grant is not awarded, the position will not be created. Under the federal grant program, grants are awarded that pay the salary and benefits for the first two years of the full-time position with the precinct agreeing to pick up the full cost in the third year.
[Editor's Note: Reporter Mellisa Ferland also serves as the part time secretary and photographer for the West Ossipee Fire Department.]