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Public hearings scheduled for proposed Bedford budget

Union Leader Correspondent

January 06. 2013 10:42PM

BEDFORD - At two public hearings this month residents will have their say on the proposed 2013 operating budget and a 30-cent tax hike.

After five years of maintenance budgets, the 2013 budget calls for a $4.65 per $1,000 tax rate.

The public hearings will be held on Jan. 9 and 23 at 7 p.m. at 10 Meetinghouse Road.

Three budget items account for the tax hike. The state retirement system's 25-percent rate increase on town contributions resulted in a $143,000 spending increase, or 4 cents on the tax rate. The town also will need to make a first payment of $670,000, 20 cents on the tax rate, on an infrastructure bond passed by voters in 2011. And personnel and collective bargaining obligations approved in prior years account for an additional $225,000 of spending, or 6 cents.

Town manager Jesse Levine, the former town administrator in New London, took the helm in Bedford three months ago when the department heads had already submitted their budget requests to the interim town manager.

She said that given the down economy over the last five years, the town has worked hard to work under a maintenance budget and have minimal tax rate increases.

"But that's really caught up with us especially in terms of staffing," she said. "We're trying to do more with less while the town grows."

The total budget request is for $25,929,418, including nearly $1 million for sewers and $500,000 for special police details.

Additional items are included in the budget that Levine said will result in no increase in the tax rate. These include $35,948 to fund an executive assistant position in the Planning Department; $25,000 for a town-wide facilities maintenance service program; $62,000 to add a part-time administrative specialist and full-time patrol officer in the police department; and $31,000 for the full year expense of the engineer/technician at Public Works.

The new budget also contains a request for pay increases and equitability adjustments for non-union employees, who count as 47 of the town's 129 full-time employees. The current budget contains salary and benefit increases for the two-thirds of town employees covered by the collective bargaining agreement.

Other spending, including a $450,000 fire engine and four Public Works trucks for $403,500, are offset by fund reserves and expected grants.

Not offset by other sources is $1 million budgeted for road maintenance and other capital improvement projects.

The original budget presented by the department heads called for eight full-time and one part-time positions. Levine cut it to 3.5 positions, and the Town Council brought it to 2.5.

In all Levine cut $419,000 from the budget as presented by the departments, which would have resulted in a 54-cent tax increase, before the council cut another $340,000.

After going through the town manager and the council, the proposed 2013 tax rate represents a 30 cent increase from last year's $4.35.

Last year, the owner of a $200,000 property paid $8,700 in town taxes. This year the amount would increase to $9,300.

Roy Stewart of the Bedford Taxpayers Association said Levine is getting off on the wrong foot with the budget, which he said ignores a budgeting fundamental - don't spend more than you take in.

"It's not the spending; you've got to tie it to the revenue," Stewart said. "We are getting increased revenue because we have new buildings in town that are producing taxes, so there is an increase in revenue, so that's the amount you can increase your spending,"

Stewart said that there's no reason to increase the town's payroll in a sluggish economy.

"I guarantee you that there's somebody that can be eliminated because of the duplication of work, and there's no reason why town employees should be getting pay raises when the taxpayers who pay their salaries are not getting pay raises."

A final vote takes place at the budgetary town meeting on March 6 at 7 p.m. at the high school auditorium.

The school budget will go before voters on March 12.

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