Loudon residents ask select board to better explain warrants

Jeff Miller, center, a select board member in Loudon, explains the 12% budget increase to residents at a public hearing Wednesday night.

Jeff Miller, center, a select board member in Loudon, explains the 12% budget increase to residents at a public hearing Wednesday night. Michaela Towfighi / Monitor staff

Tom Blanchette, the Loudon fire chief, explains computer system upgrades for the department at the budget public hearing

Tom Blanchette, the Loudon fire chief, explains computer system upgrades for the department at the budget public hearing Michaela Towfighi—Monitor staff

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 02-08-2024 5:15 PM

When Alicha Kingsbury thinks of town meeting, truly understanding where tax dollars are going and what a warrant article means comes from years of attending monotonous meetings and talking to town officials. For most people in Loudon, that’s out of the question, she said.

So to Kingsbury, it should be the role of the select board to help translate these decisions and spell it out for taxpayers as clearly as possible.

“It’s important to understand that we have a lot of blue-collar workers that don’t look at this day in and day out,” she said. “I think that it would behoove everyone to just try to break it down for people.”

This year, the select board is recommending a budget of $6.45 million, which is a 12% increase.

In the nine-page budget, 200 line items are staying level, said Roger Maxfield, the chair of the select board. But wages and salaries have increased throughout.

A 16% hike in employee benefits is the result of increases to the New Hampshire retirement system and the town’s share of Medicare.

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This year, the town lost seven employees, according to Maxfield. And that’s on top of eight employees that left the year prior. So that means this year, wage increases are included in most departments – like a 6% increase to police salaries and a 23% increase to the fire department – to ensure that no further talent is lost, he said.

“We really tried to get our wages up some to be competitive,” said Maxfield. “We have some good people and for retention purposes, we have to pay them.”

When looking at the warrant articles, though, there are no big ticket items, he said. Instead, the articles consist of new purchases like a police cruiser, excavator, trailer and road tractor, and whether the town should reclaim and pave Lesmerises Road.

The wording of these articles indicates there’s no tax impact on these votes. That’s because the town has saved money for these purchases.

But inevitably, taxpayers are then asked if the town should replenish these funds – of which there is an increase to their annual taxes to do so.

With that, Kingsbury suggested the select board reorder the warrant articles so that residents understand that there will be a financial impact on decisions, even if the article indicates it’s tax-free.

“A lot of people don’t understand how the meetings are run, they aren’t necessarily educated in the process,” she said. “If it was held in a different manner, I think people might make a different decision that’s a little more educated and something that they can sleep well knowing, that they feel a little better about.”