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Selectmen present budget amounts for fourth time
RUMFORD -- New municipal budget amounts for eight departments were approved by the Board of Selectmen Thursday evening.
Selectmen passed reduced budget proposals for all eight unapproved municipal budgets, nearly a month after raising their recommendations to try to meet those of the Finance Committee.
The new budget recommendations of selectmen are as follows:
* $625,000 for the Fire Department, down from $655,000 in August, was $733,850 in June;
* $716,000 for the Police Department, down from $738,744 in August, was $817,656 in June;
* $874,000 for Public Works, down from $922,030 in August, was $1,134,969 in June;
* $650,000 for Public Safety, down from $652,683 in August, was $691,452 in June;
* $60,000 for General Assistance, down from $78,000 in August, was $83,137 in June;
* $749,000 for General Government, down from $799,080 in August, was $861,264 in June;
* $358,000 for Capital Accounts, down from $423,000 in August, was $511,000 in June;
* $1,276,000 for Unclassified Accounts, down from $1,390,700 in August, was $1,390,700 in June.
All proposals passed 4-1, with Selectman Frank DiConzo dissenting, except for the General Assistance and Capital Accounts. With General Assistance, Selectmen Jeff Sterling and Jolene Lovejoy dissented, while DiConzo and Lovejoy voted against the Capital Accounts recommendation.
The Finance Committee met on Sept. 10, to approve its new recommendations.
The municipal budget hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, with the budget vote on Tuesday, Oct. 8. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the American Legion Hall for residents to decide on eight budget proposals.
Voters turned down all 12 money articles on June 11. They totaled $7.5 million. Selectmen cut $1 million from the next budget, which was presented July 23. The Finance Committee reduced the proposed budget to $7.2 million.
At that referendum, eight of the 12 budget articles were rejected. Passed were funds for health and sanitation, the Rumford Public Library, public service and debt service.
On Aug. 27, voters again turned down the same eight municipal budget articles.
Regarding the fire department budget, Fire Chief Bob Chase said that budget amount "will mean two layoffs for the department from where we started, and it's reduced staffing to two firefighters about a third of the time."
At a structure fire, it takes four firefighters before they can enter a burning structure. So it will mean waiting for a Mexico firefighter and a call force firefighter. "It's a timing issue...We know there's going to be times we're two firefighters and the community is going to see that."
Regarding the police department budget, Police Chief Stacy Carter said that budget means they're going to lay off two officers, would “reduce the ability of our department to provide a proper level of service to the community.”
“As it stands now, we'll have to lay off another patrol officer and eliminate the detective position,” Carter said. “The detective will be worked back into the patrol ranks. The loss of the detective would certainly affect our ability to conduct investigations, but we'll do as much as we can with what we have.”
DiConzo said, given the town's population decrease, said he would propose $625,274.
“I don't think it means anything to the public,” DiConzo replied. “If they have faith in the Police Department to do their job with cuts, that means we suggest it. That means the force has to step up to the plate and do what they can with reduced manpower if the $625,274 is passed," he said.
Asked about the effect of that amount, Carter said it would an additional two layoffs. "That would effectively put us to one person per shift, which, in my opinion, is not safe for the employees, not safe for the community. With the nature of the crimes that we deal with, there would be several instances that there would be nobody available when the officer is tied up with an arrest, tied up with a mental health crisis which we frequently respond to, tied up on a domestic complaint. We'd be relying on other agencies to assist us, which, they're not always available. In my opinion, that's not a reasonable number."
Board Chairman Greg Buccina said, "Our job is to find a balance with the budgets. With respect to the taxpayers, with respect to the manpower of our police department, and to remember that these people are employees of our community who are putting their lives on the line...I'm here to understand what is needed to run a department safely and efficiently as a select person."
“I think to reduce their budget by that amount would be really irresponsible and negligent on our part,” he said. “If we want to get there in two or three years, maybe that would be a better way, but wiping it out without knowing where we'll end up is not the way to go," he said.
DiConzo's motion was defeated, 4-1.
Regarding the public works department, Public Works Director Andy Russell said the amount would mean the loss of two positions, not filling a third position, and a 25 percent cut in winter roads.
Prior to that budget amount, DiConzo made a motion to cut it another $250,000 to $624,160, saying that it would call for doing away with the director's position, two workers and a secretary, who is leaving. It would not touch the summer and winter road accounts.
Russell said the result of that budget would be to eliminate two more positions, making a total of five of 16 people losing their jobs.
Sterling asked, "How would we plow the winter roads?"
Russell said this would mean more miles per truck as well as more overtime. "It would be very difficult. You'd better get some new tires for your cars this winter."
DiConzo's motion, which was seconded for discussion, was defeated, 4-1.
With the General Assistance, Director Thelma Giberson said the budget amount would reduce the office hours from 35 hours to 32 hours per week. Town Manager Carlo Puiia added it would be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
With the General Government budget, Puiia said the hourly paid workers in the town office would be reduced from 35 to 32 hours per week. They would be working four eight-hour days, from Tuesday through Friday. The town office would still be open on Mondays, but not available for services to the public. Salaried workers in the town office would still work on Mondays.
Regarding the Unclassified Accounts, Puiia stressed that there has been a misconception among some in the public that there was money in this budget for the Greater Rumford Community Center and Black Mountain. That is not the case.
He said this account includes money for Worker's Compensation, unemployment insurance, health insurance, liability insurance, and contributions for social security/FICA.