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Proposed budget would mean reduced services
RUMFORD -- Despite wage hikes, increasing fuel costs and a 53rd pay week facing departments, the Board of Selectmen stood firm to holding the line on the 2011-12 municipal budget during a workshop held Thursday.
Selectmen said the message was made clear to them last year by voters, who ignored their recommenations in favor of lower budget amounts requested by the Finance Committee. The Finance Committee will go through the budget in mid-April.
What is apparent though is that if the figures recommended by selectmen are approved by townspeople, it will mean personnel cuts and reduced services and less hours by departments to meet public needs.
The selectmen's recommendation of $6,814,258 is $514,459 less than department heads requested and $270,376 less than what Town Manager Carlo Puiia recommended. It's also $162,924 more than the current budget.
Puiia said the bottom line is actually $6,697,090 after subtracting $39,745 in revenue sharing, a $57,851 decrease in county taxes and an increase of $19,572 in a tax increment financing agreement with the gas power plant.
Selectmen voted 3-2 to reduced police and fire requests. Of the police department request of $836,670, they voted $805,000, and of the fire department request of $711,363, they voted $678,000.
Selectman Jeremy Volkernick said the department is now down to a three-man shift. He said that means that when they arrive at a structure fire, they cannot enter a burning building to rescue people or try for a quick knockdown until a fourth qualified firefighter arrives. “This is crucial. Townspeople need to know what they're losing...We're going to work on regionalization. Hopefully, we'll find sone savings there.”
Police Chief Stacy Carter said there would be a decrease in service, but he would make the adjustments to his department should voters and the committee side with selectmen.
Among reductions, he said he'd have to cut the lone school crossing guard, adjust dispatch hours, not cover any illnesses or vacation time, and reduce training.
“I just hope that the citizens will understand that we're not going to be able to respond as efficiently or as timely as we usually do, and with a hope and a prayer, nobody will get hurt,” he said. “I just find it sad that the board through contract negotiations agrees to wage increases, yet refuses to fund them, not one year, but now two years and reduces the budget without the go-ahead of the people."
Adley said he wanted to insert last year's budget figures into this year's, outside of fixed cost increases.
Belanger said he was will to support a flatline budget, but for department's to absorb the fixed increases.
Selectman Jeff Sterling said, "It was a wakeup call last year that people wanted to spend less than what we would have recommended (supporting Puiia's recommendations)."
He added that they need to continue along this line "until we can increase our tax base."
Puiia told the board that over the past four years, budgets have decreased. Further, adjusting for inflation over the past 12 years, "we cut a million dollars."
And while he understood the feeling among the board, he noted, "Sometimes you have to stand your ground. These are good budgets."
Buccina responded, "All we're doing is making a recommendation. Historically, people have been voting down budgets. How much would we save if we closed the town office one day a week? People would adjust...We may have to lose an employee or two or reduce your hours from 40 to 35...but that is life. We're not the bad guys. We're trying balance it out.”
One exception with the flatline theme was the general assistance account. Last year's budget took three months and three votes as residents rejected raising and appropriating $70,021 and $60,000 for the welfare budget. They finally agreed upon $35,000, which was an underfunded amount. State law requires towns to have general assistance budgets.
With no discussion, the board voted unanimously to increase the GA account to $55,494, which was recommended by Puiia.
Another deviation was the capital accounts. Last year, $250,000 was raised. Belanger made a motion for the same amount.
In discussion on the matter, Adley said, "We're stealing from our future."
Sterling responded, "But we can hope for brighter days."
The motion was then voted down, 3-2. Adley noted, "Wow, first time that happened all night."
Puiia recommendation was $417,675. Volkernick motioned for $415,675, but that defeated by 4-1. Puiia then suggested splitting the difference before selectmen voted 4-1 by recommend $350,000.
At the start of the workshop, Tax Collector John Giambattista told the board, "None of us wants to pay taxes, but it is essential for the services we have. Please be careful in getting the facts before cutting services. Plan for the future and it will be more predictable."
Buccina told his fellow board members, "We need to have more interaction with our department heads before the budget season, to see if there's a better way to get things done."