October 30, 2008
Selectmen cut budget, capital expenses
By STEPHEN BEALE
GOFFSTOWN - Selectmen say they are prepared to make painful cuts to the budget in order to save cash-strapped homeowners from having to pay more in taxes next year.
Selectmen said they could achieve their goal between reductions in one-time capital expenses and operating on a default budget, which is what was authorized for the previous year, plus any increases that are mandated by contract or law.
“The elephant in the room is that I don’t really see how you can maintain the tax rate and/or reduce tax rate without cutting services and/or deferring your road program or huge capital expenditures,” said Selectman Scott Gross. “I think that we’re possibly going to have to go in that direction. I don’t want to go in that direction but I just think that.”
At their Oct. 16 meeting, selectmen sawed $1,281,800 million in capital expenses off the proposed $21.9 million budget. Once they turned to operating expenses, the cuts were more modest. At their Oct. 20 meeting, the board sliced off approximately $10,000.
At the outset, proposed appropriations for 2009 were $21,764,986, an increase of more than $2 million over gross appropriations of $19,383,596 for 2008. But the proposed amount is actually less than what was proposed last year: $21,888,956.
In their first, three-hour budget meeting, selectmen came halfway toward their goal of a leaner, economically appropriate budget, cutting several proposed one-time capital expenses for vehicles, building renovations, and land purchases. But selectmen said they would revisit the reduction before taking a final vote later this fall.
“It’s not just Goffstown,” said Selectman John Caprio. “Everybody’s dealing with it and you have to deal with the reality. People’s equities in their homes is reduced. People’s retirement savings are down at least 30 to 50 percent … and I think people are scared.”
The 2008 tax rate for the town is $8.37. But since the town revaluation has raised the assessed values of about a quarter of all homeowners, keeping the tax rate the same would mean they actually would have to pay more, according to Nick Campasano, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
Campasano said the board might have to cut the rate to ensure tax payments do not increase for homeowners.
Selectmen removed $500,000 for the purchase of land for a new fire station and $600,000 for land for the expansion of the town library. They also swapped out a $250,000 loader for a far cheaper $125,000 dozer for the Public Works Department, saving $125,000.
Selectmen also directed the Public Works and fire departments to seek lower prices for two vehicles, saving about $25,000. In addition, about $32,000 was chopped from the renovation of the Town Hall.
At the second meeting, Campasano said the board might have to reduce the budget below the default to get at a lower tax rate, but Selectman Phil D’Avanza warned that could threaten the town’s ability to deliver its standard services and most basic programs. He suggested that plowing in the winter may have to be delayed until snow accumulates 3 inches.
“I don’t want to start throwing out the worst-case scenario every time we talk about cutting portions of the budget because that’s always the place we go to, the scare tactics that we’re going to have cuts services and police aren’t going to go and fire’s not and that’s necessarily the case,” Campasano responded.
The board in that second meeting made the following reductions: $6,600 in total travel reimbursements to the selectmen, $600 in chairs for their meeting room, $783 in travel reimbursements for the information technology department, and $800 for the same expense for the planning department.
Several selectmen balked at Campasano’s proposal that their salaries be cut in half to $10,537 total for the five-member board.
Selectman Scott Gross said he isn’t in it for the money, but “To be a selectman for $2,000 a year when you spend hundreds of hours of time at meetings, preparing for meetings … I just don’t think that’s a good idea.”