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Canterbury selectmen propose increases for public safety budgets

Canterbury’s proposed budget is up 1.26 percent from last year and includes money to promote the fire chief from volunteer to part-time status and to bring a part-time police officer to full time.

At town meeting March 15, residents will vote on a nearly $2.46 million budget. The increases come from the added public safety costs as well as higher retirement contributions and health insurance costs. All of that is largely offset, however, by revenue from last year’s sale of the Brookford Farm property and encumbered funds from money raised last year that wasn’t spent.

“That’s about as tight as we can make it this day and age,” said Bob Steenson, chairman of the board of selectmen.

At last year’s town meeting, voters approved an article allowing $576,000 of the money Stonyfield Farm owner Gary Hirshberg spent to buy the Brookford Farm property to go into the unreserved fund balance. This year, they’ll vote to use money from that fund to pay down the principle and interest due on a bond from the town’s original purchase of that land in 2005. That will save taxpayers from contributing to about $62,000 in bond payments that are part of this year’s budget.

The selectmen have proposed a 10 percent increase in the public safety budget, which includes an additional $19,000 for wages in the police budget and an extra $21,000 in the fire department’s budget. The police department has two full-time officers and several part-timers. Chief John LaRoche wants to increase patrols around the town’s beaches this year, which will require the hours of another full-time officer.

“I want to cover the beaches more methodically; we have lots of trouble there in the summer,” he said.

Also in public safety, the selectmen want to change Fire Chief Peter Angwin’s status from volunteer to part-time, because the number of hours is increasing, and they want to make sure he’s fully compensated for his work. Angwin has also done a good job of recruiting new volunteers and building a more professional operation, said selectmen Tyson Miller.

Other increases to the budget come from greater employer retirement contributions required by the state and an increase in health care costs – increases that communities across the state are facing. The budget also includes more money for computers and technology for town departments.

Aside from the Brookford Farm money, some of those increases are offset by encumbered funds from last year’s budget. Last year, for example, the budget included $35,000 for a revaluation of property. But that money was set aside a year early, which means it’s available for this year without having to raise more money. The town also has money for painting the town hall, a project that wasn’t completed this year. Items in the conservation, library and other budgets were decreased wherever possible.

Overall, Steenson said the selectmen do a “very thorough scrubbing of every line of the budget.”

Aside from the budget, the town will vote on a handful of warrant articles to purchase a new highway truck, police cruiser and telephone system for the town offices, and for tree maintenance. Part of the money from the highway truck comes from an already established capital reserve fund, and several warrant articles ask voters to raise additional money for other reserve funds.

Steenson said the selectmen are expecting support for their budget at town meeting.

“The voters are usually pretty supportive,” he said. “They recognize the fact that we do our best to hold this budget as tight as possible.”

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

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