Selectmen consider reducing hours for town employees, library

Technically, the fiscal year 2010 budget was balanced last week when the Selectmen cut $120K from the school benefits budget. But, what if the school is unable to absorb those cuts? Or what if, as some in town suspect, Town Meeting voters want even more reductions? Either of those possibilities could mean tough times for town employees.

“We’re at the point where we’ve cut just about everything from this budget,” said Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf last week. “The last thing we can resort to is to reduce hours in all departments.”

Phaneuf said a two-hour per week payroll reduction in all town departments would save $74K next year. “If the schools won’t reduce health care costs, the town will have to take the hit,” she said.

In total, 32 town positions would see reduced hours, including a nurse at the Senior Center, four library assistants, an assistant treasurer, and several administrative assistants, secretaries, and clerical personnel.

The cuts would force the library to shorten the hours it’s open from 54 per week to 40.

Chairman Bill Boland said that while the budget is balanced, that may not be enough for Town Meeting voters. “If the Annual Town Meeting approves a balanced budget, we’d be lucky. Coming in below would show voters that the town is willing to make hard cuts.”

But those cuts won’t come easy. Boland told a room full of town employees, “This board appreciates every one of you and we don’t look forward to doing this.”

Recreation Director Doreen Ferguson asked the selectmen to consider other options. “We would all rather take a salary freeze than lose hours.”

The town has approached the unions about foregoing 1-2% of their contracted salary increases to help cut costs. Boland said the unions are willing to negotiate if the school unions will do the same.

Boland also proposed elected officials reduce their stipends by 20%. That’s not a whole lot when you consider selectmen get only $1,000 per year, but Boland said the point was “to set an example and show we’re willing to make a cut ourselves.”

“We represent the community and it all trickles down. The town can have all my stipend,” Phaneuf offered.

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