Town Council Votes to Recommend $28.7M Budget
Tax rate is flat with what was approved at last town meeting, 11 cents more than what the town actually paid this year.
The Merrimack Town Council voted on Monday night to recommend a budget of $28,698,782 for the 2013-14 fiscal year, after making a couple of adjustments that did little to change the bottom line.
The board still has contracts to work out with town union groups and warrant articles to finalize, but the recommendation of this budget would mean a $5.25 tax rate for 2013-14.
That is technically level-funded with what voters approved at last year's Town Meeting, but is actually 11 cents more than what was paid in this year's tax bills as unexpected revenue lowered the tax rate well after town meeting it had passed.
The Council voted to add $12,000 to the general fund for a deposit into the ambulance capital reserve fund, as mandated by a warrant article that requires them to do so.
Finance Director Paul Micali said after the meeting that the article requires at least $12,000 annually to be placed in the fund and it had been missed earlier on in the budget cycle.
Town Manager Eileen Cabanel suggested the possibility of removing a $19,000 appropriation for the New Hampshire Municipal Association as a way to even out the addition, but Jackie Flood, Nancy Harrington and Tom Koenig voted against doing so in a 2-3-1 vote. Councilors Bill Boyd and Dan Dwyer voted in favor, while Chairman Tom Mahon abstained.
“I believe we get sufficient value out of NHMA,” Koenig said. “… I'm not interested in making that cut at this point. I think it's a little off the cuff to cut off that support at this point.”
The NHMA, as Cabanel explained it, works similar to a lobbying group to help make sure municipalities are being well represented in Concord throughout the year. It was formerly joined with the Local Government Center, but the two operate separately these days, she said.
Cabanel also said adding the ambulance to the budget without removing something to compensate wouldn't affect the bottom line enough to change the tax rate that would result from the $28.7 million budget.
However, a vote that passed later in the meeting to reduce the Fourth of July budget by $10,000, from $35,000 to $25,000, means when all was said and done, the budget was increased only $2,000 overall for the ambulance expense.
Members of the Council, during the Fourth of July discussion said they did not want the Rotary Club, who handles the Fourth of July midway, to think they were pulling anything out from under them, pointing out that they will continue to support the midway. But Koenig, who brought up the discussion suggested the town spend less money hiring bands for the annual parade and focus more on community groups in it. Looking at what was spent in 2012, Micali said the budget spent was $21,500, and more than half that was on the fireworks display.
The Councilors voted unanimously to remove the $10,000, believing it would not have a negative impact on the town's Independence Day celebration.
The last point of business that needed to be handled regarded final principal and interest due on the Wastewater budget for the dewatering bond.
The money that is owed will come out of the wastewater budget, but replaced by finding money in the revenues line of that budget.
The $5,284 added to the budget in the bond interest and the $,3596 in principal will essentially zeroed out by making up for them in the revenues line.
After moving the budget, members of the Council again thanked Cabanel, Micali and the department heads for coming to them with a stripped down budget that addresses significant expenses to the tune of about $800,000 in shortfalls the town was facing thanks to changes in the retirement system and healthcare, among other things.
“I thought you made my job a lot easier tonight than what it could be,” Councilor Bill Boyd said. “I think next year's going to be very difficult, but I think this particular year the community can take a lot of pride in knowing the seven people behind the rail were well-prepared to talk about budgetary issues.”
The Council couldn't have been where it was without the work of Cabanel, Micali and the department heads, Boyd said.
“I've been through budget seasons when we've been here till one o'clock in the morning,” Harrington added. “This is unbelievably easy, it's not easy, but it was much less painful than it was in the past. But I also want to take an opportunity to make a comment about the people who work for this town. Every single person within every single department has really done without a lot of things and actually lost some things trying to accommodate what we've done tonight. I think we need to acknowledge what they've done and hopefully the citizenry will appreciate what they've all done to be able to make this happen. So thank you.”