Selectman tells departments they need to justify budget increases

The Board of Selectmen, in a joint meeting with the Advisory committee last night, got a look at the latest round of town budgets, and both groups agreed there was more work to be done.

Finance Director Brian Ballantine and Town Administrator Jean Kitchen presented three budget scenarios for comparison. The scenario that offered the steepest reductions would still leave the town with a 2.82% tax increase next year.

At the start of the budget season last fall, selectmen asked departments to submit budgets that were reduced by 1% over the current year. The goal was to evaluate the impact on the budget if there was no tax increase this year.

Selectman Bill Boland told department heads, many of whom were in the audience, that if they want more money in their budgets, they’ll need to make a case for it. “Anyone who believes they deserve more than a -1% budget has the opportunity to come to us and convince us why.”

While he commended Superintendent Charles Gobron for a “fairly low” initial request from the K-8 schools, Boland said selectmen would nonetheless have to decide whether to support the 0.9% budget request.

“It was a great first budget from the schools, but it’s still an increase,” he said.

Other departments with significant budgets, like police and fire, are also requesting increases. DPW is the only major department to put together a reduced budget it says it can live with.

Ballantine said even if all departments submitted budgets reduced by 1%, the tax rate would likely still go up somewhat because of increases to fixed costs like insurance and debt payments.

In previous years the Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee have met separately with department heads to comb through budget details, but in an effort to simplify the process this year, the two groups have decided to meet jointly to conduct their reviews.

Their first joint session will be next Tuesday. No word yet on which budgets they will review, but I’ll keep you posted.

Did any of you watch the budget discussion during the live broadcast last night? What were your impressions?

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