Council Removes Funding for Community Development Post

With several members citing the need for a Town Administrator and a firmer plan, the Derry Town Council voted 4-3 to remove the funding for a Community Development Coordinator from the proposed FY 15 budget.

The Council removed the funding while looking at “flagged” portions of the budget, pieces that had been set aside for further discussion, at the April 29 Council meeting.

Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau, who crafted this year’s working budget, included the new position at $112,295, after the Council and residents expressed concern about Derry’s high tax base and the lack of commercial/ industrial development. The salary for the position would have been $66,000, with the rest of the cost for benefits and equipment.

Before voting down the position the Council discussed several options, including partial funding for FY 15. The advocates for partial funding suggested that the new Administrator would want to be involved in the hiring, and thus the position would only be staffed for part of the year.

Councilor Josh Bourdon asked Chief Financial Officer Frank Childs what the impact would be if they only funded the position for half a year.

Childs allowed that it could be done, but added that such a move would present a hardship in next year’s budget. “Next year you would have to fund not only any increases, but the other 50 percent,” he pointed out.

“What if we vote all the money, but only use half of it?” Bourdon asked.

The remaining money would go to fund balance, Childs said. It would benefit taxpayers “down the road” by being used to reduce the tax rate, “but it would make next year’s budget process more difficult. Childs said he recommended funding for a full year, to give the Council a budget to build off in the following year.

Councilor David Fischer suggested a “hiring freeze” until the new Administrator was on board. “We have no concrete plan, and too many unknowns,” he said. “Do we need Economic Development? Yes. Can one person make a difference at this time? No.”

Councilor Tom Cardon agreed with Fischer. “I’m not against the position, and I hope the new Town Administrator sees it as important,” he said. “But I’m confident that if someone is hired, we can find the money in a supplemental appropriation. The new Town Administrator should be involved in the hiring process.”

“We should plan for it, or it will never happen,” Councilor Michael Fairbanks said.

Bourdon said, “I am absolutely on record for the idea of an Economic Development Coordinator. I agree with Dave and Tom, but also with Mike. Are we shooting ourselves in the foot? Do we have the ability to approve the money?”

Chairman Mark Osborne said if they cut the funding and then decided to hire someone, they could get a Supplemental Appropriation. But that has to be approved 5-2, he added.

Budreau said a supplemental appropriation is generally used in an emergency situation. Osborne reacted strongly to the term “emergency,” reasoning that the funding for purchasing a building on Sawyer Court and the Professional, Administrative and Technical contract, both of which were brought before the council in mid-year, were not emergencies.

Childs clarified, “It is something that comes up after the budget has been approved.”

Councilor Albert Dimmock said, “Why are we making a decision to fund a position that is not there?”

Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores pointed out that the money was already in Budreau’s level-funded budget. “I think we should wait to hire till the Town Administrator is here, but have the money in the budget for him to use,” she said.

“We have to plan for it,” Fairbanks repeated. “It’s not prudent not to fund it.”

Fischer made a motion to zero out the line for Community Development Coordinator. Bourdon proposed an amendment to Fischer’s motion, to fund the position for two-thirds of the year. His reasoning was that if they only funded half of it, it would be a greater shock to taxpayers in FY 16. “This way, there’s more of a balance,” he said.

He asked Childs how much of a budget cut that would mean, and Childs said it would result in a $37,400 reduction, leaving $74,900 to be raised by taxes.

The amendment failed 3-4, with Katsakiores, Bourdon and Fairbanks voting in the affirmative and Dimmock, Osborne, Fischer voting against it.

Fischer returned to his original motion to “zero out” the position, and it passed 4-3, with Fairbanks, Bourdon and Katsakiores against it and Fischer, Cardon, Dimmock and Osborne in the affirmative.