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November 22. 2012 10:53PM

Top official says more cuts to Londonderry town budget seen as necessary

LONDONDERRY - As members of the town council work toward a goal of a budget that's $100,000 below default for next year, acting Town Manager Bill Hart said additional budget cuts will be necessary.

During Monday night's council meeting, Hart outlined several options for reaching the recommended $35.6 million budget, which would have an estimated residential property tax impact of $5.17 per thousand, a 31 cent increase over the current year's budget.

Last weekend, department heads gathered at town hall to present their respective budgets for the coming fiscal year and Hart said his initial budget proposal totaled $35.4 million.

After correcting some accounting errors, Hart concluded that number comes in closer to $35.6 million.

"Following Saturday's meeting, we gave (Hart) directions as to our expectations of where we'd like to land," Council Chairman John Farrell said this week.

An earlier goal had been to attain a budget $150,000 below default, but Farrell said it was later determined that a $100,000 reduction was more realistic in light of the errors, not to mention the anticipated $757,000 budget increase the town will be slapped with due to rising health insurance costs and changes to the state retirement system.

"We can't control that, so we're going to have to look deeper," Farrell said Monday night.

Among the cost-cutting proposals Hart outlined would be a staff reduction of one police officer or firefighter next year.

As the town's police chief, Hart admitted that option wasn't his favorite, though he felt it was necessary to consider all possible options at this point.

"Let me be clear here," he said. "Everything is on the table right now."

Budget Committee member Chris Melcher said he'd prefer to avoid further staff cuts.

"Over the past few years we've cut down far enough in these positions," he said. "I for one don't want to see any more."

A much more palatable option, Hart agreed, would be to focus on non-personnel reductions. "That way we could try and spread those reductions throughout different departments, resulting in as little change to our existing services as possible," he noted.

Reducing some employees' hours could be done at department heads' discretion, Hart suggested, along with possible salary reductions for some.

"Salary reductions should be part of a long-term plan to ensure certain services stay in the community," he said, noting a goal could be set to save up to $8,000 in "general department reductions."

However, he admitted that mandatory reduction of salaries isn't an option for employees working under collective bargaining contracts.

Conscious of current fiscal constraints, the staff at the Leach Library have already agreed to forego a cost-of-living pay increase next year: Hart said this would save the town around $22,500.

Farrell urged his fellow councilors to tread carefully in the days ahead, to make sure "we don't cut too deep or too far."

He admitted, however, it's easier said than done. "We're going to continue seeing this downshifting (in state retirement costs) in the years to come," Farrell said.

Further discussion on the town's proposed budget will take place during the Monday, Nov. 26 town council meeting. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Moose Hill Council Chambers at Londonderry town hall.

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April Guilmet may be reached at AGuilmet@newstote.com.


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