Webster passes $2.4M budget, votes against hiring administrator

  • A resident checks in during Webster’s town meeting Saturday.  —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • A resident checks in during Webster’s town meeting Saturday.  —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Select board members Nanci Schofield (left) and Michael Borek speak about outgoing select board chairman Bruce Johnson during town meeting Saturday.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/17/2018 4:33:18 PM

Webster residents passed a $2,409,286 operating budget at town meeting Saturday – up 16 percent from last year – but officials say the increase won’t affect the town portion of the tax rate.

The bulk of the budgetary increase comes from a more than $1 million investment in town infrastructure projects. The town allotted $295,000 to the Knights Meadow Brook culvert replacement and $325,000 for road work and preservation, select board chairman Bruce Johnson said.

Money for these projects won’t impact resident’s taxes, though, because funding comes almost entirely from capital reserves and grants, Johnson said.

“Your property taxes shouldn’t go up with this budget,” Johnson said. “You take the (capital improvement) items out of the budget, and this budget is the same as it was last year.”

For the Knights Meadow Brook culvert replacement, $73,750 would come from capital reserve, and $221,250 would come from a FEMA pre-disaster mitigation grant.

Johnson said the town had applied for the grant twice before, and had not received it.

“Somehow, the first time we did this, there was something about big rainstorms in Texas … the second time we applied, there were the hurricanes in Florida,” Johnson said. “We are crossing our fingers nothing is going to happen in the next few weeks. Let’s hope the third time is the charm.”

Another $36,500 for a new police cruiser will also come from capital reserve, Johnson said.

The budget passed Saturday – $2,409,286 – was actually a $3,002 increase from the proposed budget, $2,406,284.

Two dollars of that increase came from a “symbolic amendment” made by Johnson to recognize the work of the police and fire departments.

The other $3,000 came from a motion by Deputy Fire Chief Ryan Dubuc to raise the funding allotted to the public safety building in capital reserves from $2,000 to $5,000.

The reserve fund for the public safety building received $5,000 last year, and the town will need money to pay for future projects, like replacing fire department radio speakers in the aging building, Dubuc said.

The only article voted down at town meeting was a petition warrant article for Webster to hire a town administrator to assist the select board. Webster currently has one administrative assistant, Leslie Palmer, but no administrator.

Resident Tara Gunnigle, a signer of the petition, said the neighboring towns of Warner and Salisbury have town administrators who help to oversee town operations.

“I do believe the time has come for our town to have one,” she said “We have a lot of opportunities for improvement here in the town, and we cannot put our heads in the sand.”

Several people spoke in opposition to hiring a town administrator, saying an administrator could cost the town, and isn’t necessary in a town of Webster’s size.

“We have what we need in this town right now,” said resident Christine Schadler, who was elected on Tuesday to replace Johnson on the select board.

Schadler and select board members Nanci Schofield and Michael Borek presented Johnson with a kayak paddle to thank him for his seven years on the select board.

“For all of your hardwork, your perseverance through times good and bad, for your positive, optimistic you-ness, thank you so much on behalf of all of us,” Schadler said. “May the wind be at your back, my friend.”

The town also announced the swearing in of a new police chief this week. Steve Adams, a retired chief from Northfield, began his position in the town on Monday.

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