Selectmen approve 4.5% spending cut in budget
Published 2:44 pm, Wednesday, February 17, 2016
The Board of Selectmen approved a 2016-2017 budget of $44.9 million, a 4.5-percent cut from last year’s budget of $47 million.
The budget, which does not include Board of Education spending, includes $33.3 million for general government operations compared with $35.8 million spent in the 2015-2016 budget year, according to an updated summary of the 2016-2017 budget.
The amount of spending for town government operations directly overseen by the Board of Selectmen would rise .14 percent to $26.9 million.
“The most important thing to share is my staff does a great job of really combing through their operating and capital budgets and only asking for what they know they need to have or what our residents and taxpayers are demanding in terms of serving the town,” First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said. “The credit in my mind goes to the department heads and the town administrator who prepared the budget.”
During the final deliberations over the budget the Board of Selectmen added $60,000 into a Board of Finance contingency fund to implementation recommendations of reports and studies by the Pedestrian Infrastructure Advisory Committee, and two studies on parking and the Emergency Medical Service.
The money includes $30,000 to purchase six dynamic speed signs to warn motorists of their speed near elementary schools.
Stevenson said the efforts to limit town spending to essentials is the continuing result of reforms to the town’s budget process to look at information about operational and capital spending in greater depth.
The drop in the budget is also due to trimming contribution to worker pensions by more than $300,000 based on a new actuarial analysis that evaluated the town’s current worker pool, Stevenson said.
The town is refining its capital budget planning process to get a clearer sense of when exactly to prioritize one project and the potential cost impacts of delaying work, Stevenson said.
“We’re being given a lot more detail on capital expenditures and department heads show the work behind the scenes they have done to really vet the request,” Stevenson said. “We’re also enjoying lower commodity expenses which is a function of oil prices and seeing the benefit now of transitioning some of our town buildings to natural gas.”
Another goal the Board of Selectmen is hoping to accomplish before the budget season is getting a breakdown of how the town’s three volunteer fire departments spend an annual grant for overall expenses, Stevenson said. To motivate the departments to detail their spending the board approved a budget that gave each of the three departments an equal grant of $65,000.
While emphasizing the crucial role the town’s volunteers play in providing fire protection in a cost-efficient way, Stevenson said the effort is less about the amount being spent and more about ensuring the grants are covering the same kinds of costs for each department to be equitable to different sections of town.
“The thing we did that met with some resistance is we equalized their grant amounts. Without further information I couldn’t feel good about a 3-percent increase for one and 10-percent increase for another,” Stevenson said.
On Feb. 2, Chief Jerome O’Brien said the decision to apportion the grant money evenly was not an effective way to cover the cost of firefighting needs, especially taking into account dips between years in private fundraising for each department.
“You can’t look at just firefighting as an expense without taking a look at the entire fire department,” he said. “Every single expense in that grant comes before our board every month at a meeting.”
“We want to make sure we are consistently supporting the same kind of expenses across the departments,” Stevenson said.
The Board of Finance will begin considering the budget next and approve it sometime in March before the Representative Town Meeting votes on it in April or May.