‘You’re like a teenager with a credit card’ – spending pushback leads to cuts in Boscawen budget

  • The Boscawen town budget meeting drew such a large crowd that it filled the conference room and a television link in the town library had to be used on Thursday night, February 2, 2023. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Boscawen Advisory Budget Committee members Peg Baneau ,left, Chair Ed Cherian and Dale Randall listen during the town budget hearing on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/3/2023 1:36:18 PM

Following three hours of public comment that an 11% hike in the operating budget is way too much, especially when combined with some expensive warrant articles, Boscawen voters will see a smaller proposed increase when town meeting happens in March.

“Three to five percent is expected, but not this. Some of this has to be put off, or taken care of over a longer period of time,” said Nathan Young, one of more than two dozen people who spoke against the proposed increases at Thursday’s budget hearing.

The hearing drew more than 50 people to the Municipal Building committee room, creating an overflow crowd that resulted in a dozen people watching the hearing on a TV in the library.

After the public comment period closed, the budget advisory committee voted not to recommend the budget as presented. Following that, the select board made several cuts, most notably reducing a cost-of-living adjustment for town employees from 6% down to 4.5% and eliminating merit raises, while keeping longevity step increases. The select board is scheduled to meet Monday to calculate the effect this will have on the bottom line.

They also trimmed several contributions to capital reserve funds, which allow money to be built up over years to pay for big-ticket items like building repair or fire trucks, rather than asking voters to pay it all at once. They reduced a catch-all capital reserve fund warrant article from $515,000 to $384,000 by removing town-wide safety material, and cutting contributions to the municipal building fund, fire station and fire truck.

The budget advisory committee had voted against recommending that warrant article at its original price.

Everybody who spoke during the hearing criticized the decision by the select board to propose the $5.04 million operating budget and hundreds of thousands in targeted expenditures in warrant articles.

“You’re like a teenager with a credit card gone wild,” said Beverly Drouin.

Many speakers noted that their tax bill –  a combination of town, school and county taxes – had risen sharply in past years, going above amounts ranging from $5,000 to more than $8,000, undermining Boscawen’s reputation as a relatively inexpensive place to live compared to much of the Concord region.

Despite all the criticism, however, the tone of the hearing stayed friendly, with jokes and laughter amid the complaints – a welcome change from the anger that pervades much political discourse. Several speakers who criticized proposed raises for town employees went out of their way to praise those same employees for their hard work.

“I think the residents were really respectful and got their points across in a friendly way,” said Town Administrator Katie Phelps.

That may be because, with the exception of the proposed 6% cost-of-living increase, none of the spending was criticized as unnecessary.

“Nothing is gold-plated. It’s all needed. We just can’t do it all,” said Ed Cherian Jr., chairman of the Advisory Budget Committee and a former selectman. He and several other speakers expressed concern that the hefty overall price tag would cause voters to reject everything. “If we don’t ask for less, we might get nothing.”

The biggest dollar amount on the warrant is an authorization to sell long-term bonds for up to $6.5 million to pay for the replacement of the sewer line in portions of the village, the latest step in a long-term project to upgrade the system that connects to Concord’s Penacook Wastewater Treatment Plant.

One of the major benefits would be to reduce the amount of rainwater that goes into the sewer lines. Concord charges Boscawen based on volume that enters the treatment plant, so Boscawen users have to pay for rainwater as if it was their own sewage.

In the police budget, one officer who had been covered by federal American Recover Plan funds given during the height of the pandemic will now be paid by taxpayers.

One change is coming to the three-person select board: Paul Dickey is stepping down next week because he is moving out of town. It’s unclear what will happen to fill his place; Friday was the deadline to file to run for office this year. The remaining selectmen could appoint someone if no candidate emerges.

Town Meeting will be held Tuesday, March 14, at 7 p.m. at the Boscawen Elementary School. That is also election day for all officers.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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