March 17. 2013 8:10PM

Middleton workers get raise; budget gets trimmed

Union Leader Correspondent

MIDDLETON - Even though residents were shocked by their tax bills last year, they felt town workers deserve a small raise as they could cut back in other areas.

Selectmen Chair Todd LaPierre said the spike in the tax rate occurred last year, since the town did not have unspent funds to help offset the 26-percent increase, as officials have been able to do in the past.

As a result, officials attempted to limit increases where they could. Residents decided to heed the selectmen's recommendations for articles 3 and 5, which include the budgets for general government and the highway departments, respectively. They voted 42-34 to add $3,771 to Article 3 and 37-31 to increase Article 5 by $3,745.

As a result of the $7,516 increase, the overall operating budget is $1,522,014. It is $46,360 - or 3.2 percent - larger than last year's budget of $1,478,572.

The budget committee thought a 2-percent raise for town employees was an appropriate balance between keeping taxes down and retaining experienced staff, most of whom did not receive any increase last year. Selectman Terry Laughy said the raise is a small way to make up for no pay increases last year.

"It's not a lot of money, but it's well-deserved," Laughy said.

The budgets of other departments - including police, fire and recreation - factored in the raises by prioritizing their purchases.

Police Chief Randy Sobel said the department decided to wait to purchase tablet computers - which officers could use to check motor vehicle records and complete paperwork on the road - because they felt buying a rifle and a ballistic shield were more important.

Janet Kalar felt the town needed to increase the fire chief's salary by $24,500 to encourage more candidates to fill the role and have someone available to respond for emergencies during the workday for 30 hours a week. While residents felt it was too soon for the town to have a full-time chief, it encouraged discussion. According to the town report, firefighters responded to 135 calls, while ambulance crews went to 103 calls in 2012.

Acting Fire Chief Jason Roub said local personnel responded to about 70 percent of the calls for assistance. He added the town has mutual aid agreements with neighboring departments, who responded to the remaining emergencies.

Fire Capt. Lon Berry said he doesn't believe the town is ready for a full-time chief, but he feels it can still attract good candidates to lead the department.

Residents decided to trim articles 8, 9 and 10 in half. As a result the town will now will appropriate $100,000 to continue the maintenance and reconstruction project along King's Highway and Ridge Road, add $10,000 to the highway department's vehicle fund and spend $10,000 to trim trees along certain streets, respectively.

Road Agent Rick Washburn, who decided to get another year out of the existing vehicles, reminded residents that road repairs will "not go far with that kind of money."

While members of the selectmen and the budget Committee recommended lower amounts, residents voted 54-9 in favor of Article 12, which adds $10,000 to a fund to fight exotic weed growth in Sunrise Lake, and unanimously decided to accept $2,400 in grant money. The town would use the money to treat the lake for milfoil and pay for divers to remove the invasive plants during the fall.

While the town has not had to spend on the issue in the past, more milfoil was found in the water in the past year, according to Evelyn Campbell, of the Conservation Commission.