Several Derry town departments took the Town Council’s directive to tighten their administrative belts, and are coming in with lower budgets than they did for 2016.
In a special budget meeting April 14, the Council heard from representatives of Assessing, Human Services, Tax Collection, Finance, Information Technology, Planning, Human Resources and the catchall “Other Municipal Obligations.”
Most of the departments are coming in under their 2016 approved amounts, the result of both level-funding and staff adjustments.
Chief Financial Officer Susan Hickey introduced the departments under her Finance umbrella, including Assessing with Assessor Barbara Chapman. Chapman is requesting $513,583 for 2017, a number that is in line with Acting Town Administrator Stephen Daly’s requested amount. This is a $16,204 reduction from the 2016 amount of $529,787, or a 3 percent reduction.
Councilor Richard Tripp asked about a category called PILOT, and Chapman said that was Payment In Lieu of Taxes. She explained that certain 501-C3 organizations such as the Masonic Temple and Nutfield Court Senior Housing pay a specific amount to the town, instead of taxes, to mitigate their use of police, fire and other services.
Councilor Jim Morgan asked for a list of abatements, and Chapman said she would get it to him. Morgan said he was particularly interested in abatements for owners of apartment complexes, noting, “I want to see how tax rebates affect rents, specifically with the Fairways and Linlew Drive.” He explained that he wanted tenants to see how much they are paying, in contrast to how much the landlord may be saving on taxes.
Human Services, under the direction of Jill Jamro, has decreased 6 percent since 2016, from $417,935 to Jamro’s and Daly’s requested $390,863. Jamro explained the drop in part on a stronger economy.
“We have assisted 164 individuals to date in 2016, and we assisted 302 in 2015,” she said, crediting the drop to “strong employment levels.”
Her revenues of $13,500 came from individuals who received assistance paying back their liens, Jamro said.
Tax Collector Dawn Enwright spoke to her department. Enwright is requesting $794,416, which is $116,930 or 12 percent lower than FY 16.
Enwright has seen an uptick in revenues, including more cars being registered and more newer model cars. She and Hickey sold 35 pieces of town-owned property at two auctions, netting $2.1 million in revenue, she said. While that money goes to pay the back taxes, the auctions also put properties back on the tax rolls, according to Enwright.
Morgan asked, “Do you ever see a situation where you don’t recover all the taxes?”
On manufactured homes and condominiums the town can “break even,” Enwright said. But on single-family homes they have been very successful, she said.
Finance, represented by Controller Janice Mobsby, is requesting $732,629, a decrease of $2,077 from 2016.
Council Chair Brian Chirichiello asked about a 57 percent reduction in Mobsby’s “miscellaneous” line and Mobsby said it came from a reduction in the cost of small claims cases. She explained that Derry District Court is now e-mailing claimants.
“Other Municipal Obligations” (OMO) is a catchall budget for items that affect all departments or don’t fit anywhere else, including legal fees, debt service, the Heritage Commission, the Conservation Commission, the town’s contribution to the Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce for the holiday parade, and milfoil treatment at Beaver Lake. The so-called OMO is down $1,297,716 from the 2016 budget, according to Mobsby. The 44 percent drop results in a working budget of $1,700,639, she said.
Chirichiello asked about the rooms and meals tax revenue and Mobsby said it went down a little, but is not a matter for concern.
Chirichiello also asked about the town’s $5 million commitment to Exit 4A and what account those expenses are coming from. Mobsby said any 4A expenses are coming from the already-authorized bond.
“We are spending it down and reducing the amount we have to bond,” she said.
The Earned Time account for employees is also under OMO, Mobsby said.
“We take the money from an expendable trust account so as to minimize the effect on taxpayers,” she said.
Morgan expressed concern about the property insurance line. Mobsby said the town has been working with the same insurance contractor for 10 years. “I think we should bid it out, for a sanity check if nothing else,” Morgan said.
“It doesn’t hurt to look,” Chirichiello agreed.
Administration, IT and Planning
The Administration Department, currently headed by Daly, is down 15 percent, or $92,742, for a working number of $517,578 (see related story page 5). Part of the reduction came from not filling the Human Resources Director position eliminated last spring, but hiring a part-time director instead.
Information Technology (IT), headed by Doug Rathburn, is one of two departments that showed an increase, of $44,600, for a total working budget of $599,000. Rathburn said this increase was necessary because of the need to replace backup hardware and paging.
Planning, headed by George Sioras, saw a minor increase of $480 for a working budget of $266,867. He and assistant Elizabeth Robidoux have been busy. “The last two years have been the busiest since 2008,” Sioras told the Council.
Tripp asked if there were plans to update the Master Plan. Sioras said the last time it was updated was 2010, and the RSAs mandate every five to 10 years. He hasn’t proposed it, he said, because the past two years he has been asked to level-fund a budget. The last time they updated, they took advantage of their relationship with the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission and got it done for $35,000, he said.
“How long did it take?” Tripp asked.
SIoras said the last update took 18 months. “We want as much citizen input as possible,” he said. “When you live here, work here or own a business here, you’re the ones we want to hear from.”
Morgan urged the other Councilors to flag this item and asked Sioras to come back with a number. “We’ll plug it in and see if it makes sense” to do an update now, he said.
And with the economy picking up, revenues are up, Sioras said. “We are getting more fees. With one application fee, for a self-storage complex, we got $10,000,” he said.