The half-dozen or so residents who attended the public hearing on the municipal budget were small in number but vocal in their insistence that the Town Council make deeper cuts to its proposed 2014 budget.
While many of the staff members attending the Thursday, May 2 hearing were also town residents, the number of non-staff was small. But they expressed many concerns about the town’s spiraling tax rate.
The original working budget proposed by Town Administrator John Anderson was $43,530,360, with estimated revenues bringing that number down to $24,541,992. After meetings with the department heads, the Council voted to trim $14,956 from that amount. The cuts include the following:
• $50,000 from police overtime;
• $10,000 from the budget for police cruisers:
• $2,000 for a voting machine for Elections;
• $6,010 from Buildings and Grounds;
• $2,184 from Town Administrator compensation;
• $20,000 from Economic Development; and
• $15,472 global savings in electricity.
The budget also reflects a $35,632 reduction in debt service, after a bond sale last week lowering the interest rate on two bonds (see related story page 5).
The budget also reflects $176,612 added back in to restore funding for the Taylor Library, after a majority of Councilors voted in the affirmative in a recent straw poll.
The working budget will amount to 9 cents on the tax rate, 13 cents or $312,000 below the town tax cap, Anderson said.
But residents questioned several of those decisions and pressed for more. Police and fire are important, resident Maureen Rose said, adding, “I think we should keep them somewhat happy, without going crazy.” She suggested that the departments hire a part-time officer, without benefits, instead of budgeting for overtime.
Rose expressed concern about the $170,000 slated for leasing new police cruisers, and suggested the department make a deal with a dealership to have the company’s name on the cruisers in exchange for a reduced rate. “I gave the Subaru dealer Chief (Edward) Garone’s number,” she said.
Former Town Councilor Kevin Coyle noted that he’s all for safety, especially as his wife is a police officer in Londonderry. But he disputed the statement made in earlier meetings that 3-year-old cars with 100,000 miles on them are unsafe. “They just want new cars,” he said of the Police Department.
Resident John Burtis has had careers in police work, fire service, the military and business, and brought some of that experience to the table. He questioned the need to have separate maintenance services for each department, noting that “When I was a cop in Los Angeles, all the maintenance was done at the DPW (Department of Public Works).”
He suggested a combined dispatch operation. “All over the country, people are combining dispatch,” he said. “Here, we’re breaking it down.” He also questioned the four battalion chief positions in the Fire Department, noting, “They can write their own paychecks.”
Fire Chief George Klauber had said in another meeting that if he were short-staffed, he couldn’t use the tanker because there would not be enough staff to run it. Burtis suggested, “If you have an area of town without hydrants, why not send the tanker out first?”
Anderson’s original budget had cut funding to the Taylor Library in East Derry, with the rationale that patrons could be served as well by the Derry Public Library downtown. After an extensive response from the community, Councilors had given a consensus that the majority wanted to keep Taylor, and the $176,612 was returned to the budget.
Burtis said, “For many years, I was a fan of the Taylor Library. But at a projected $10.49 town tax rate, maybe it’s time to combine services.” “If they want to stay open, they should use their own money,” Maureen Rose said. “It doesn’t grow on trees.” “I like Taylor,” Coyle said. “I’m on the fence about it. It’s a nice service to have – but nice to have with a $10.49 tax rate?”
Kelly Martin said she had lived within walking distance of Taylor Library for 17 years, “but never set foot in it. I think it’s mostly for stay-at-home moms.” She called the library “charming” and said she didn’t necessarily want it to close, but believed private funding was the answer.
“Maybe we could scale back their funding over a number of years, so they could get used to raising their own money,” she proposed.
Martin also criticized the Council for the informal poll, saying it should not have been taken before the public hearing. Directing a portion of the cable revenues to the Derry Cooperative School District to help develop its Channel 6 also came under scrutiny. “They have been trying to get their hands on that money for years,” Rose said.
But resident Janet Conroy contended the school district should have the funds. “They’re part of the system,” she said. Conroy also questioned the level-funding of the salary line for cable. “They asked for more hours last year, and they didn’t get them,” she said. “They didn’t ask this year, probably because they didn’t think they’d get it. But they have volunteers to train.”
Conroy asked for a workshop to be held that would focus on cable needs, including the school district’s needs and plans for equipment, the next cable contract and the possibility of a senior discount.
Residents at the microphone expressed concern about the Economic Development budget and its component, the Farmers Market. In the budget discussion for economic development earlier this month, it was noted that the projected compensation for the market director, at $21,000, is more than the market pulled in last year and that the market is running at a loss to the town. A motion to trim the salary to $5,000 was defeated in the April 30 meeting, 5-2.
Coyle said, “I was on the Council when the Farmers Market first came up, and at that time, the budget was $5,000. It’s now at $20,000. No other town pays that kind of money to its market director. Portsmouth has a fantastic market, and they don’t pay anything at all.” Kelly Martin suggested the market be staffed by a volunteer instead.
Residents criticized the larger economic development picture, noting that not much has happened over the years. “You’ve cut $20,000,” Coyle acknowledged. “What are you going to do with the remaining $30,000?” “Before we pour more money into it, we should have a clear understanding of how it is to be used, and outline that to taxpayers, including their return on investment,” Martin said.
Rose suggested more should be done to make downtown attractive, such as a butterfly garden or another place people would want to linger. Community members also took the opportunity to chastise Councilors for the recent public perception of friction among members. “I don’t appreciate the new Councilors being attacked,” Rose said.
Martin added, “You have different backgrounds, different viewpoints, but you all have the same goal. I suggest you get to know one another.” She recommended having a barbecue or similar social event.