Selectmen, fire chief compromise on stipend

Budget review goes into second session
By Sarah E. Reynolds | Apr 16, 2014
Source: File

Hope — During the course of two meetings, the Board of Selectmen cut proposed municipal expenditures, not counting schools, for the coming fiscal year by about $30,000 last week.

The regular selectmen's meeting April 8 ran past 11 p.m., so the Board decided to adjourn and reconvene to finish going through the budget April 10 before meeting with the Budget Committee.

The most controversial item was the fire chief's stipend. Chief Clarence Keller argued, as he had in the past, that the increased paperwork and other responsibilities of the position merited a doubling of his pay from $2,000 to $4,000.

Selectman Jim Annis asked Keller whether he had delegated some of the extra work to mid-level firefighters, commensurate with the extra pay they receive.

“Nobody wants any additional responsibility,” Keller responded.

Later, Selectman Jason Hall said he was prepared to support Keller's request for an additional $2,000. Board Chairman Brian Powers Jr. suggested giving the chief a raise of 6 percent, in line with the cost of living increase received by those living on Social Security.

Selectman Chris Pinchbeck moved that the Board cut $1,000 from the requested increase, raising Keller's stipend to $3,000. The motion passed, with Hall and Powers opposed.

Also under public safety, selectmen reduced the $4,600 request for equipment purchases to $3,600. In addition, they created a fire department equipment line under capital reserve, and allocated $800 to it, to save toward the cost of bottles for self-contained breathing apparatus, which will need to be replaced in 2018.

The Board made reductions in a number of other areas, from recreation to health insurance for town employees to road maintenance. Selectmen cut their own stipend of $800 apiece – $900 for the chairman – for a savings of $4,100. “We're not here for the money,” said Powers. Selectman Wendy Pelletier was the lone vote against eliminating the stipend, who said she thought it should be put to town meeting voters.

They voted to move the town clerk and tax collector and the bookkeeper/secretary to a less expensive health insurance plan, with the full cost of individual coverage paid by the town. The town would also set up health reimbursement accounts for each employee funded at $1,200 a year. While this does not represent a budget savings this year, Duke expects that actual expenses will be less than what is budgeted, and that savings will accrue in future years.

Town Administrator Jon Duke had budgeted $3,300 for Internet, email and website services. He explained that the town's website needed to be upgraded into order to make it work better and to simplify maintenance. He said after the first year, the annual cost should be about $500, adding, “At some point, we're going to have to do this.”

Pelletier argued the town was under too much financial pressure now to make the improvement this year, and the Board decided to reduce the line to $500 for this year, and put $1,500 into Capital Reserve towards an eventual website upgrade. Selectmen also reduced the amount set aside for town employees to attend trainings and workshops from $1,000 to $500, and cut the budget for town office equipment purchases from $3,100 to $2,000.

Under recreation, the Board cut $500 for a sunshade on the playground at True Park.

The fire department came up again under the capital reserve section, with discussion of proposed energy improvements to South Hope Fire Station. According to Keller, the building needs insulation, repairs to the interior ceiling and two replacement windows. His request of $10,000 for improvements was cut to $5,500.

Finally, the Board reduced the amount allocated to ongoing maintenance of roads from $72,107 to $71,905, and the sum for culverts, pavement edging, gravel and other maintenance supplies from $28,934 to $24,309.

The net amount to be raised from property taxes was $375,706, or about 14 percent of the town's total budget commitment, Duke said.

Residents will be asked to vote on each budget item at the town meeting June 16.

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