Budget Increases Raise Questions But Little Changes

HAMPSTEAD – The Town budget, while not finalized, appears to be coming in with an increase from last year’s budget of under 2 percent. The 2013 town budget bottom line was $5,368,580.50 and the 2014 budget is $5,462,802.25, or an increase of $94,221.55 or 1.76 percent.

Monday night, Dec. 9, the selectmen reviewed the budgets that had changes from the initial budget review. The Budget Committee was present and asked questions, and Budget Committee Chairman Matt Murphy was obviously frustrated that the review revealed that many bills for many of the individual budgets were still outstanding, making the final picture hard to pin down accurately.
Murphy also expressed displeasure when he saw the previous year’s figures plugged into lines and the department heads without specific plans ready to justify those figures.
The Police budget is up, according to Police Chief Joe Beaudoin, because of contractual union salary increases and the increase for the New Hampshire Retirement System. To offset those contractual obligations, he said he removed a new cruiser from his budget and plans to purchase it through the department’s Detail Fund, and would bring that to the board in January.
The only increase in his budget was $4,000 for the purchase of four new rifles so all his patrolmen would have one. His budget bottom line was up $68,716.60 or 6.69 percent over last year, for a total of $1,095,968.60.
Fire Chief Michael Carrier said his budget was up 1.57 percent or $11,337.45 to a total of $733,067.27, due to an unanticipated increase in insurance and the increase in the Retirement System obligation.
The Library budget saw a slight increase due to contractual items and to a new line item for water charges, which had never been charged before recent repairs were done to a well that provides water to the library and the other three buildings in that complex. The Budget Committee took the library through all the increases in the Contracted Services line looking for some place to reduce the budget but in the end accepted the 2.4 percent increase in the bottom line of $10,531.14, for a total of $446,130.52.
Representing the Library, Emily Reschberger asked if the Town would be willing to help pay the portion of the well repair bill the library had received and does not have funds to cover. The $6,685.84 bill is due and the library had no idea it would be getting it, but it has to be paid.
The library has only a small amount in the Non Capital Building Reserve Fund and as this is a one-time expense and a town building, the library trustees were asking the Town for help.
Selectman Chairman Sean Murphy said the board would take a look at the bill and see what the Town could do to help cover it. The board voted to take it under advisement.
The Budget Committee and the selectmen questioned the need for a hired director for the Senior Drop In program at the library. A $500 line item is in the Recreation Commission budget to cover the hire, although Recreation Commission Chairwoman Kim Colbert said the Recreation Commission has nothing to do with the program and is not prepared to take it over. However, for accounting purposes and by statute, it has to reside in that budget.
Reschberger, who is a volunteer with the Senior Drop In Program, said the pool of volunteers is dwindling and the hiring of a part-time director who would come in and get the Thursday morning event started was what they thought would keep the program afloat. She said it is used by a core group of 18 to 20 seniors.
The selectmen said they were fine with hiring the coordinator.
Colbert noted that in the Athletic Fields Budget section of Building and Grounds, the line for general maintenance was overdrawn. Murphy questioned where the funds had been taken from to cover the overage and accepted that the overall budget is a bottom line budget so there is no actual movement of money from line item overages.
Colbert pointed out that the line had been reduced last year and this caused the overage, as an irrigation system breakdown had to be fixed as well as the roof at a ballfield that was damaged by a falling tree.
Animal Control Officer Sheila Johannesen got a grilling for her budget. Matt Murphy questioned why she wanted $5,000 in the Professional Services line when she has only used $920 this year. She explained that she has done a lot of fundraising but can’t count on that, and the money needs to be there to take of animals that require medical and/or boarding services.
After a lengthy discussion, this line was reduced to $3,500.
Other lines Murphy questioned were the gas and fuel line that has a $1,000 amount for next year but had $162 used against it this year, and the $500 telephone line that has used nothing so far. He was told the assistant and Johannesen haven’t been submitting mileage costs or telephone costs but will in the future. The lines were left untouched.
The Highway Budget, according to Road Agent Jon Worthen, is down 8.2 percent or a reduction of $71,114.45. The only increase in the budget was in the leased equipment line and that is for a new backhoe. Matt Murphy questioned the Engineering Support line at $5,000, and after some discussion it was reduced to $3,000.
Conservation Chairman Tim Lovell said his budget is level funded. He introduced Brent Ebner to fill an alternate position on the board and the selectmen approved the recommendation. Lovell also said the 3-plus-acre parcel off Buttrick Road that the owner wishes to donate to the town would make a good conservation area and he recommended the town accept it. A public hearing on the matter was set for Dec. 23.
The Recreation Commission will be putting in a warrant article for $24,500 for construction and installation of a basketball court on the field behind the tennis courts. The total cost will be more than the warrant article sum, but Colbert said they were doing fundraising to make up the difference.
Matt Murphy asked that a full presentation for the basketball court be provided at a later date.
The library will be putting in a warrant article for $10,000 to be added to its Non-Capital Building Reserve Fund.

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