Town Council Chair Looks Back at 2014 Accomplishments

Mark Osborne has no regrets.

The chairman of the Derry Town Council said in 2014, he and his six colleagues did what they set out to do and reduced the tax rate for Derry.

Osborne discussed his 2014 report in a phone interview last week.

“It has been a good year for Derry,” he said. “We started the year with a new Council and we all agreed to work together. It’s a close group of colleagues, and our meetings are a joy to attend.” The new Councilors are Joshua Bourdon and David Fischer.

The tax rate was one of the biggest accomplishments, with the Council under Osborne reducing the tax rate by 15 cents with its 2014 budget, a number that was later reduced further by the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA), dropping the tax rate by $2. And the budget the year before was level-funded, Osborne added.

Osborne summed up the savings: “Notwithstanding the proposed budget, Councilors closely examined the proposed FY 2015 budget line by line, in all areas, big and small, in search of additional savings. A proposed new carpet for the Council chambers at a cost of $15,000 was removed from the budget. A $25,000 spending proposal for repaving the Forest Hill Cemetery was removed from the budget. A new cemetery lawn mower at $8,775 was removed from the budget. Overtime in the Public Works Department was reduced by $2,000. Overtime in the Recreation Department was reduced from $13,000 down to $5,000. Overtime in the Parks Department was reduced from $12,129 to $10,000. Overtime at the Transfer Station was reduced by $2,765. An amount of $235,625 in unapproved proposed pay raises was also removed from the budget.”

In regard to an economic development coordinator Osborne also wrote, “The Council removed $112,295 from the proposed budget, a sum that was intended to fund a full-time economic development coordinator. The Council expressed a willingness to revisit the economic coordinator proposal after a town administrator was hired. The Council also expressed its desire that any future recommendations for an economic coordinator be accompanied by specific goals, incentives, and criteria by which one can objectively measure the success or failure of the position.”

Osborne added, “Notwithstanding the approximately $400,000 trimmed from the proposed FY 2015 budget, the five pillars of town service (Administration, Fire, Police, Public Works, and Libraries) were well funded at a cost of $36,547,738. Derry’s services remain strong and responsive to the needs of its citizens.”

But he’s still not satisfied, and said he and the Council are still trying to bring down the highest tax rate in the state. “We don’t always agree on the number, but we agree on the need for it,” he said.

This Council also dealt with the Exit 4-A question, and determined that Derry does have a commitment, Osborne said, adding, “We are no longer under a cloud of ambiguity.”

He wrote in his report, “No ship of state should be without its captain for very long, lest risk running ashore, no matter how steadfast and talented may be its crew. During the Council’s first meeting, it resolved to hire a town administrator.”

They found that Administrator in Galen Stearns. Osborne said Stearns made his short list for two reasons: “First, his work ethic. He returns phone calls, and he’s happy to meet with anyone – he has an open door,” Osborne said.

Stearns’s calm nature also appealed to him, Osborne added. “He listens, he goes back and does his research, he tells you his opinion – but there’s no knee-jerk reaction,” Osborne said.

Osborne observed that he’s proud of the Council for conducting its own search. “It wasn’t always easy,” he said, “but we put the taxpayers first.”

That’s been the theme of his administration and the past year, Osborne said. “Overall, as a town, I feel the residents have been heard,” he said. “That affects every decision we make.”

This Council, with the exception of 91-A (Right to Know) issues and personnel issues, has been transparent, Osborne said.

He closed his report with a tribute to Derry poet Robert Frost and a quote from John F. Kennedy, “Miles to Go Before We Sleep: For this is a time for courage and a time for challenge. Neither conformity nor complacency will do.” John F. Kennedy.

“With an eye towards the future and an appreciation for the past, your town councilors and administrators remain resolved to continue making local government responsive, efficient, and more cost-effective for all of Derry’s residents,” he concluded.