Budget a Little Lower
fight on the horizon
By STEPHEN BEALE
GOFFSTOWN - Taxpayers might catch a break with the town budget that has been proposed for next year.
The total spending for 2009 would be $21.8 million, a decrease of about $118,000.
The board of selectmen was presented with the budget on Monday. In interviews, selectmen were optimistic they could hold the line on budget increases, protecting homeowners from higher tax bills during economic hard times.
“I think the department heads are realizing the economy is on the downswing,” said selectman Vivian Blondeau. “I think they’re trying to be as frugal as possible.”
The three largest departments within the operating budget are: public works, $4.8 million; police, $4.1 million; and fire, $2.3 million. Public works is about $456,000 over what it had in 2008, police is $314,000 more, and fire is up $140,000.
Overall spending is still slightly less than what was proposed in 2008 because the ballot that year included a $2.5 million bond for municipal water in the Lynchville and Danis parks neighborhoods as well as a few other one-time expenses.
The heads of the three departments said one of the reasons for their higher budgets was energy. Police Chief Pat Sullivan said his fuel costs had doubled for 2009. Heating oil costs likewise will be two times what they were this year for the Fire Department, according to Chief Rich O’Brien.
Salaries and benefits for staff also drive the Fire Department budget up due to the new contract voters approved in 2008 and the two new firefighters hired the same year, according to O’Brien. A five-year federal grant is helping the town pay for those firefighters. In the second year, the grant is chipping in $72,000 total, leaving the town with the remaining $60,000.
Sullivan is asking for one more position: an eighth dispatcher. He said he is on the verge of overspending his yearly allocation for overtime expenses, simply because he does not have enough people to cover all shifts. By the end of July dispatch overtime was at $25,000 and the town had set aside $26,000 for that purpose, according to Sullivan.
Like fire and police, Director Carl Quiram said the Public Works Department is facing higher costs for energy as well as materials, resulting in the following increases: $90,000 for fuel, $20,000 for paving, and at least $64,000 for salt.
The board of selectmen will spend the next few weeks going over the proposed department budgets. The board will be reviewing them each Monday for the rest of September. In October, selectmen will decide what to keep or cut.
On Monday, September 15th the board will focus on the Fire Department. A week later will be the Police Department, followed in subsequent weeks by the library, parks and recreation, sewer, and public works.
Selectman Scott Gross said the board is especially sensitive to the effect the economy is having on taxpayers. He said the board is aiming to strike a very delicate balance between controlling costs and providing essential services to the public. “We’re going to do the same due diligence as we always do,” Gross said.
Voters will get their turn to express their opinion on the budget at the polls next March.