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December 27. 2012 10:19PM

Conway looking at ways to keep costs down

CONWAY - It will be a while before Conway residents get a crack at the 2013 proposed operating budgets for the Town of Conway and the Conway School District, but already the work on those budgets is drawing attention.

The Conway School Board has talked about the budget for several meetings now, and has already voted to trim or remove some of the line items and special articles. Gone is a special article calling for the district to raise $200,000 for a study on closing one of three elementary schools.

The district's school population has declined, and in 2012 voters approved an article calling for the board to get an outside opinion about closing schools to save money. The board met with consultants, but the price tag was too high for them to recommend taking it any further.

The district also faces an increase in special education costs and a decrease in revenue.

On a 3-4 vote, the board did not approve the operating budget of $33,613,147 recommended by the board's budget committee. The committee meets again Jan. 3 to look at further cuts.

The 2013 municipal budget, submitted by Earl Sires, town manager, to selectmen in November, proposed raising $9,688,824, for an increase over the 2012 budget of 4.3 percent, with $399,785.

One bright note is the 4.8 percent decrease for elections and voter registrations. In 2012, the town had to pay for election expenses for the presidential primary, the state primary in September, and the general election in November, on top of the town and school annual meeting cycles.

The town is still dealing with the aftermath of tropical storm Irene and town officials enforcement of ordinances in Transvale Acres. Sears has proposed a jump in the legal expenses line item, from $50,000 to $86,000, citing the cost of the court cases associated with the Saco River neighborhood, combined with an extra $16,000 for the town to defend assessed values in commercial tax cases that are under appeal.

The Conway Public Library budget presentation to selectmen came under scrutiny, as the proposed budget - which is level-funded - included three month's worth of pay and benefits to the library's former director. Several selectmen expressed disapproval of the funds, concerned that the trustees had committed in 2012 to using the funds in 2013 before those funds had been approved.

The library director resigned in the fall, in the aftermath of a controversial move to reorganize library staff. The trustees have pledged not to hire a new director until the cycle of negotiated payments to her are over.

At a subsequent meeting, selectmen voted 4-1 to recommend a cut to the amount of those 2013 payments.

The Conway Municipal Budget Committee will be reviewing budgets with town and school officials throughout January, meeting at Kennett Middle School on Jan. 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30. The public hearings on precinct, school, and town budgets are on Feb. 13, with the committee voting on those budgets on Feb. 14.

As an SB2 town, the deliberative sessions are in March, with ballot voting on April 9, 2013.

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Sara Young-Knox may be reached at syoungknox@newstote.com.


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