Department Heads Reflect on Proposed Budget

While the laser beam of public opinion has focused on the effect of Town Administrator Galen Stearns’ proposed budget on police, fire and ambulance services, little attention has been paid to the effect of a $1 cut to the town tax rate on Derry’s other departments. But that’s all right, according to heads of those departments: the $1 cut to the tax rate, if approved by the Town Council, will have relatively little impact on them.

Community concerns have centered on a $437,766 proposed cut to Fire, to be achieved in part by not filling four vacant positions, and a $20,000 cut to the police overtime budget.

The department allocations as proposed by Stearns are as follows:

• Emergency Management, FY 2015, $64,543, FY 2016, $69,929, increase of $5,386;

• Executive, FY 2015, $1,249,848, FY 16, $1,342,497, increase of $92,689;

• Fire, FY 15, $9,249,950, FY 16, $8,812,184, decrease of $437,766;

• Libraries, including both Taylor Library and Derry Public Library, FY 15, $1,386,675, FY 16, $1,410,190, increase of $23,515;

• Planning, FY 2015, $233,321, FY 16, $234,257, increase of $926;

• Police, which will see an increase of $41,112 over 2015, coming in at $8,474,503, but which will also see the $20,000 cut in overtime hours;

• Public Works, FY 15, $6,657,731, FY 16, $6,424,858, decrease of $232,873; and

• Town Clerk and Elections, FY 15, $128,789, FY 16, $119,727, decrease of $9,062.

Stearns has said he intends to make the tax rate cut work without affecting services through a combination of new sources of revenue, shifting the hydrant rental cost back to the water users and a one-time tapping of the Unexpended Fund Balance to reduce taxes.

How will she manage Derry’s smallest library on the $1 cut? “Better than we would have on the $2 cut,” Taylor Library Director Linda Merrill shot back. “That would have all but closed us.”

The Council’s original directive to Stearns in December was a $2.50 cut to the tax rate. With that enacted, Merrill said she would have had to lay off all her part-time help and run the library with herself and Assistant Director/Children’s Director Fran Mears. “Since we have to have two people on at all times for security issues, that means neither Fran nor I would have had vacations or sick time,” Merrill said.

Under the current budget proposal, Taylor would be allotted $185,343, down about $2,000 from last year’s approved budget of $187,189. It’s still a cut to one of the town’s smaller budgets, but Merrill thinks she can work with it.

“I won’t have to lay anyone off,” she said. When two previous employees left, she never rehired.

She may cut back a little on book buying, supplies or programming, but it won’t be drastic, Merrill said. She has a devoted patron base, and “If I need craft supplies I can ask them,” she said.

“I should be okay,” Merrill said.

Cara Barlow, Merrill’s counterpart at the Derry Public Library downtown, also said she won’t have many problems with a $1 cut. The budget she and Stearns settled on is 1.1 percent higher than the one approved for 2015 because of benefits, Barlow explained. Insurance and the town’s share of library retirement costs went up 2.8 percent.

“We will not have to lay anyone off and we will not have to cut hours,” Barlow said.

Planning Director George Sioras and his assistant, Elizabeth Robidoux, will be holding their own if Stearns’ budget passes. He is slated to receive an almost identical amount to last year’s, with a small increase of $926. The working budget is essentially the same one he proposed to Stearns earlier this year, he said.

He’s hopeful he won’t have to make the cuts that would have been necessitated by earlier scenarios. The $2 cut to the tax rate proposed by Councilors in January would have eliminated the dues to the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission; the $2.50 cut proposed in December would have eliminated Robidoux.

“We are only a two-person department,” Sioras said.

Michael Fowler, Director of Public Works (DPW), said despite a cut of $232,000 under Stearns’ latest scenario, his department would not be devastated. “All our current positions will be funded, and all our existing services will be funded at some level,” he said. “Our capital projects will be supported and we will meet the expectations of what’s been done in the past.”

The cut would include a $5,000 reduction in DPW overtime and not filling a Transfer Station position at a savings of $12,231.

The four unfilled fire positions would result in a savings of $384,424. Cuts in police overtime would result in a savings of $20,000.

Other proposed savings include $9,417, a public health insurance buyout; delaying the hiring of an assessor to replace David Gomez, who is retiring, $30,000; reduction in hours for Financial Internal Auditor, $25,120; shifting hydrant rental costs, a possible savings of $414,013; and a somewhat controversial proposal to fund the overlay and Veterans Exemption and to offset taxes with $1,694,800 from the Unexpended Fund Balance.

Public Works, Human Services and Planning were expected to answer questions on their budgets at the Council’s meeting May 5, followed by a public hearing on the budget, after Nutfield News press time.