Rockport department heads presented a uniformly grim picture of the town’s future under budget reductions projected following a request from the Select Board.

The information was presented to members of the Select Board at a March 3 workshop meeting.

In January, the board directed Town Manager Robert Peabody to create three separate budgets for 2010-2011, one showing no increase, one representing a 10 percent reduction in costs and one representing a 20 percent reduction.

Department heads had already been asked to submit figures with as close to no increase from this year as possible.

At the Jan. 11 Select Board meeting, some board members suggested building a budget that takes any education-related expenses into account to ensure that overall, between municipal, school and county expenses, there is no increase to taxpayers.

The three budgets were produced last week, with department heads submitting proposed cuts that resulted in a municipal budget with gross appropriations of $3.7 million, $3.4 million and $3.1 million.

For most departments, maintaining the previous year’s budget amounts would mean little change in services.

For the 10 percent reduction, Peabody said, the department heads agreed to a two-week furlough period across the board. While that meant some departments might shut down for two weeks around the winter holiday season, other offices would remain open as staff took the time off without pay in a staggered schedule.

Peabody said that in most cases, a 20 percent reduced budget would call for doubling the furlough periods.

Select Board Chairman Robert Duke described the March 3 workshop meeting as an opportunity to explore “various scenarios that the town may, and hopefully will not, go through in the budget session this year.”

“We’re looking out for our taxpayers,” Duke said, responding to a letter from the Rockport Public Library Committee that called the exercise “a needless and morale-depleting exercise.”

“As painful as it is for departments, it’s appropriate to look at how we deliver services and the level of services we can deliver,” Duke said. He said the town has to be prepared to make cuts in the event that local school boards do not respond adequately to anticipated cuts in state subsidies.

“It really depends on what’s going on down on Route 90,” Duke said, referring to a meeting of the Five Town Community School District Finance Committee that was taking place at the same time as the March 3 Select Board workshop.

For many departments, a 10 percent reduction would mean reductions in time available for customer service and staff training. Some department heads said they would continue to be available, despite any shutdown days.

“If I’m gone for those two weeks, you’ll still get the work out of me,” Peabody said. Public safety, code enforcement, general assistance and public works personnel would also need to remain available during unpaid furlough periods due to legal requirements or the demands of the jobs those departments do.

Town clerk projects loss of customer contact

Town Clerk Linda Greenlaw said the zero-growth budget would not have a large effect on her department, but a 10 percent reduction would eliminate time for records research and shorten counter hours during the time of year when real estate taxes are being processed.

Greenlaw said some services, such as calling dog owners to let them know their license fees were due, would cease. She said the calls save residents a $15 late fee and the fee will rise to $25 next year.

Cross-departmental assistance would also suffer under the 10 percent reduction, Greenlaw said. She said she would have to decrease printing costs and defer replacement of a printer until more funds were available.

With a 20 percent reduction, Greenlaw said, she would cut the position of assistant clerk, creating a need for more temporary workers at election time.

“We’ll not be able to give customers the service that we do now,” she said of the more severe budget reduction proposal.

Grants would suffer under reduced budgets

Tom Ford serves as planner, community development director, alternate code enforcement officer, licensed plumbing inspector, and health officer for the town of Rockport. He said items such as water quality monitoring for Clam Cove would cease under the 10 and 20 percent reductions, and the large quantity of paperwork processed in his office, already difficult to keep up with, would grow more burdensome.

Ford spends much of his time writing grants that help pay for town services, he said. Board member Alexandra Fogel pointed to a grant the town just received for an energy audit of the Rockport Opera House and other town buildings.

“It’s Tom who does these,” Fogel said. She said needed repairs to the opera house would be postponed under any budget reductions.

Ford said he would explore the possibility of sharing some inspection services with other towns, such as Camden, in order to save money.

As department heads continued to describe potential staffing reductions and unpaid furlough periods, board members raised the possibility of outsourcing some of the work. It was not clear what savings might be realized from contracting work currently done in-house.

Finance Department would change payment methods

Finance Director Virginia Lindsey said a 10 percent reduction would mean a change in the schedule for paying bills and a move to a two-week payroll cycle for town employees. She said outsourcing payroll would not be cost effective, due to the time needed to prepare the information prior to processing payroll.

At 20 percent, Lindsey said, supplies would be inadequate and she would be at risk of not having funds for the annual training she is required to receive by law. She said staffing cuts would mean she would have less time available to offer assistance to other town departments.

“Since I’ve been here — three-and-a-half years — we’ve already cut one 20-hour a week position to just eight hours,” Lindsey said.

“Your proficiency has led to greater efficiency,” Duke said.

Assessor projects outsourcing

Assessor Judith Mathiau, whose recent resignation became effective March 4, said she kept in all her budgets the tools she needed to do the job, but a 10 percent reduction in her department would mean cutting a full-time staff member who works 16 hours in her department. Other departments that share that person’s services are planning and codes, and finance, Peabody said.

“I would be less able to leave the office,” Mathiau said. That would mean contracting out for the services of a field appraiser and outsourcing map maintenance, she said.

“Half the job is public relations and keeping up with property tax law,” Mathiau said. She said time for those functions would be lost under the reduction scenarios, as would the ability to give support to other town departments.

“We always seemed to work together well as a team,” she said. “That would go away.”

Mathiau predicted that with a 20 percent reduction, the town would hardly have an assessor. She said she would have to cut travel and training, as well as supplies, and there would be no time for the conversations that help residents understand the work she does.

Peabody said Mathiau’s ongoing in-house revaluation of town property saves about $200,000 every five years. As she ended her presentation, Mathiau received a round of applause from those present.

Reductions would mean outsourcing in public safety

Police Chief Mark Kelley said he had spoken with the shop steward of the police officers union, and the union was open to negotiating an across-the-board wage reduction as a way to forestall the loss of a full-time officer.

He said the 10 percent reduced budget would mean delaying purchase of a vehicle, as well as cell phones and air cards for all vehicle computers. Patrols would have to reduce the number of miles driven, he said.

At 20 percent, Kelley said, he would have to cut one position. He said that presented a major scheduling challenge, since the Knox County Sheriff’s Office has no one on duty between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m. During that period, the county has an on-call officer.

Kelley said he would consider having his department only be open five days a week, relying on the services of county and state law enforcement the remaining two days. He said the contract between the town and its police officers is coming up for renewal on June 30. Currently the town is waiting for notification from the union that it is ready to begin contract negotiations, Peabody said

“My budget in the last five years is down 7.1 percent,” Kelley said. “Calls for service are 8.8 percent higher.”

Fire Chief Bruce Woodward said the largest increase in his budget was an expected 24 percent hike in the rate for water from Aqua Maine. He said he would save money by refraining from putting anything into the equipment reserve account.

A 10 percent reduction would mean the chief’s position would become part time, Woodward said. At 20 percent, it would become an on-call position.

Harbormaster Abbie Leonard said she would find savings through staff reductions that would mean a lower level of service to those who use the town’s waterfront facilities. She would also eliminate equipment reserve funds, training and float maintenance.

Budget cuts could cause road work delays

Steve Beveridge said the Rockport Public Works Department has lost $200,000 over the previous four budgets. He said further cuts would mean delaying necessary road repairs and equipment replacements.

“We wear out a lot of stuff,” Beveridge said. He said the county is changing the type of radio it uses for emergencies, and the change will cost Rockport about $3,000.

Beveridge said about half of his department costs are related to “winter issues.” He said he intends to fill the salt and sand shed at the end of this season, despite a lower-than-expected need for the road treatments this year.

Board member Dale Landrith asked if the town could save money by outsourcing road maintenance. Beveridge said the cost estimates Landrith quoted — about $4,000 per mile — did not take all the factors into account. Board member Tom Farley asked for a cost comparison of several contractors. Farley, who is an owner of the Rockport- based Farley and Son Landscaping, said he had experience as a contractor providing road maintenance services for other communities.

Library reductions would result in closures

“Our building is a little bit different,” Library Director Molly Larson said, adding that she had not been privy to the letter sent by the Rockport Public Library Committee.

She said much of her time is spent writing grants that, along with endowments and fundraising, provide about 40 percent of the money needed to run the library. She said the town budget pays for salaries, benefits and wastewater costs.

“This is a pretty painful exercise,” Larson said. “Department heads are very cognizant of providing value to taxpayers.” She said patrons have asked her to increase library hours, but any of the three budget scenarios the Select Board asked for would mean at least two weeks of closures.

“In this economy, people rely on the library more,” she said. She said recent storms brought people to the library’s computers to do work normally done at home.

Larson said a 10 percent reduced budget would mean four weeks of closure, cuts in staff hours and reductions in interlibrary loans.

A 20 percent reduction would take $36,751 from the library budget, she said. “At that point I would no longer want to work for the Rockport Public Library,” she said. Larson said she would leave and use the savings from her salary to propose raises for the rest of her staff. She said projecting the reductions was an eyeopening process.

Duke said he did not see the effort as a waste of time.

“As long as I’m around we’re going to pinch every penny and be ready for dark clouds,” Duke said.

“You’ve painted a very vivid picture,” Landrith said. He said the department heads had given the Select Board exactly what it hoped for.

“Based on what I’m seeing, we shouldn’t cut much,” Farley said.

Duke suggested that Peabody draft a letter to taxpayers, describing the workshop and the three projected budgets. He said nothing could be resolved until the school boards made their budget proposals.