Selectmen propose nearly flat budget for Webster town government
Webster residents will vote this year on a $1.57 million budget, a small increase from last year’s budget, and warrant articles that include purchasing a new police cruiser and extending the terms of several town employees.
The budget is up 0.31 percent from last year, and the selectmen worked to balance increases in one area with decreases in another, said selectman Bruce Johnson. Personnel and insurance costs are up by about 19 percent from last year, largely due to increased retirement contributions by employers required by the state. The public safety budget is up by 6.6 percent, due to increases in police, ambulance and fire costs.
Last year, a resident made a motion to eliminate the police budget entirely at the town meeting. The measure failed, but comments made at the town’s public hearing on the budget earlier this week indicate some residents are still unhappy with police costs. One of the warrant
articles, for example, is to raise and appropriate $32,000 from the Police Cruiser Capital Reserve fund to purchase a new 2013 Ford police cruiser, after trading in the 2005 vehicle currently used by the chief. At the public hearing, a handful of audience members debated the necessity of three police cruisers (the part-time chief and two full-time officers each have a cruiser.)
Although the money has already been raised, the selectmen reminded the audience members that the voters can vote down the warrant article if they wish to at the town meeting.
“The selectmen don’t have dictatorial powers on this; we get a tax bill just like everybody else does. All of you folks, and everybody else in town that’s old enough and lives here, is the legislative body as well as the taxpayers,” Cummings said. “We give you the options and you decide.”
Another warrant article would have given the selectmen and police chief the power to expend from the Police Cruiser Capital Reserve fund without going to voters. The same warrant article was struck down last year, and the selectmen made the decision to remove it for this year’s meeting after several people at the public hearing said they did not see the purpose. In the past, the selectmen used that power to purchase a new cruiser after one caught on fire. Now, without the power to expend from the fund, they would have to wait until the town meeting to get voter approval to buy a new vehicle.
Outside of the operating budget, residents will vote on several discretionary spending items, including $3,000 to install solar lights at the town hall and the Veteran’s Memorial flag poles, $10,000 toward the rebuilding of the Pillsbury Lake Dam and $140,000 for road improvements and preservation. The dam breached about eight years ago, and at the time the selectmen wanted the town to pledge $10,000 every year to help rebuild it. But residents must vote on it as a separate warrant article every year, and did not approve it last year for the first time. Johnson said he hopes voters will approve the $10,000 this year. As for the solar lights, within three years the town expects to see cost savings.
Other key warrant articles include changing the terms of the tax collector, town clerk and treasurer from one year to three. That increase in term limit will provide more job security and prevent the town from potentially having to train someone new to do the jobs every year, Johnson said.
Johnson said all of the town departments are understanding of the need to keep spending low and don’t request money that isn’t absolutely necessary. The Parks and Recreation Department’s budget, for example, is down for next year because it did not make as many requests.
“They do a really good job,” Johnson said. “If they don’t need the money, they won’t use the money; they’re not going to use the money just because it’s there.”