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Loudon selectmen seek to continue adding to capital reserve funds

Loudon residents will vote on warrant articles to add about $460,000 to various capital reserve funds and to disburse money from several of those funds for road repairs and equipment purchases at town meeting in March.

The selectmen estimate the warrant articles will total $1.22 per $1,000 in taxes, in addition to taxes from the overall budget of almost $4 million, which is up 0.86 percent from last year. The biggest increases to the budget come from higher contributions to retirement costs and a 1 percent cost of living adjustment for town employees. The selectmen strive to keep the budget as close to a zero percent increase as possible, making cuts in one place to afford for increases in another, they told a handful of voters at a public hearing Tuesday.

This year’s proposed additions to reserve funds range from $2,000 to $100,000, and are designated for expenses such as fire department equipment, highway maintenance and other things. Contributing several thousand dollars to each of the capital reserve funds each year prevents a massive hike in one year’s budget to cover costs of new equipment that may arise unexpectedly, such as a $400,000 new fire truck, said Selectman Bob Krieger.

“It’s money in the bank, because if you ask for $400,000 for the town to raise all at once, it’s a little harder of a sting,” Krieger said. “If we have the money in the account because we’ve been raising it 25 cents a year, it’s a lot easier to take.”

The benefit of those funds can be seen in a proposed warrant article to spend $225,250 for improvements to Hemlock Hill Road, Mudgett Hill Road and Plateau Ridge Road. Of that sum, $105,000 is coming out of the roadway improvement reserve fund. The selectmen expect that the $120,250 left to taxpayers will cost about 22 cents per $1,000 in taxes. Each year, the selectmen try to do road improvements in different sections of town.

“We very seldom don’t do something with the roads,” said Dustin Bowles, chairman of the board of selectmen.

The selectmen would also like to use money from the highway department fund to purchase a truck cab and chassis with a stainless steel body and plowing capabilities, and to raise about $19,000 to purchase a new three-point hitch boom mower. Both purchases are separate warrant articles.

One proposed sum is $100,000 to the town office building capital reserve fund. The selectmen are in the process of purchasing property from the American Legion on South Village Road, where they hope to build a new town office building. That process began last year, when voters approved a warrant article giving the selectmen the power to acquire or sell land and buildings. Another warrant article is proposed this year to rescind that power, and the selectmen hope the sale will be finalized by town meeting. Otherwise, they will recommend to voters not to pass that warrant article.

“We’re just waiting on a closing date. Everything is done, everything is signed,” Bowles said.

Once the sale of land goes through, the selectmen will either tear down or sell the existing building, then begin with design plans for a new building.

In the budget, the selectmen decided on 1 percent cost of living adjustment raises for town employees, because they have not had raises in several years. They’re also proposing a salary raise for the town clerk because she recently received a new certification and has done an outstanding job, Bowles said. Police officers will receive 1 percent merit raises.

To offset the costs of the raises, the selectmen cut costs in other places. For example, money for repairs to the town hall and town office buildings are down more than 25 percent, and money for landfill testing is down 25 percent. Working hard to balance costs by cutting wherever possible, while also providing departments with enough money to function effectively, is one of the selectmen’s main goals when crafting the budget.

“I feel like we’ve got these lines to as low as we can go and still provide adequate services,” Bowles said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

A previous version of this article misstated the purpose of the 1 percent raise for town employees. It is a cost of living adjustment.

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