Budget cuts denied at contentious Rindge deliberative session
RINDGE – An attempt by the Budget Advisory Committee to cut the budget by about $100,000 failed to pass at the Deliberative Session held at Rindge Memorial School Saturday, but served to aggravate voters, who said they are tired of the adversarial tone of town officials.
The motion to amend made by Budget Advisory Committee Chairman Tom Coneys to reduce the proposed 18-month budget of $5,424,329 by $104,329 failed by secret ballot, 66-39.
The 105 voters represent 2.5 percent of the town's 4,131 registered voters.
Coneys proposed the amendment, saying cuts could be made to staffing, employee hours and employee contributions to health- and dental-care premiums.
He said the town was increasing the accountant's hours and adding an additional position to the town. He also said a $40,000 savings could be found by a modest increase to employee contribution to health insurance and that employee pay no part of their dental premiums, which if they did could save the town $10,000. The town could further save another $15,000 by cutting six hours a week from the town dump operating hours.
"We're not trying to slam anybody. We know everybody that works here, but the taxpayers can't bear the whole cost," Coneys said.
"Some of the facts you are making are just not right, Tom. You can't make facts without looking into it," Selectman Jed Brummer said.
Town Administrator Carlotta Lilback Pini said she was blindsided by what she called an "11th hour" amendment by the committee that had numerous opportunities to raise the issue during the budgeting process. She also admonished the committee for not meeting with department heads to learn about the different needs and issues of different town departments during the budget process.
Pini also said Coneys had his facts wrong, saying employees pay 20 percent of their dental premium costs.
"I think this just demonstrates these people haven't having done their homework. It's just a shame," Pini said.
Other Budget Advisory Committee members and some voters spoke against the increasing employee salaries and benefits, while some town officials and employees spoke in support of town employees, both warning of an exodus of from the town of either employees who couldn't get fair pay or taxpayers who couldn't afford to stay.
Some voters decried the process taking place at the Deliberative Session.
"I'm embarrassed by the proceedings," said voter Evie Goodspeed. "I think this adversarial environment has grown. … I don't feel that any of you are representing me. This isn't about all the employees, it's about the residents paying the bill."
In the end, the amendment failed in a secret-ballot vote and the budget moved to the town warrant unamended.
The $1.5 million bond article to fund part of the town's transition to an 18-month budget also moved to the town warrant with a minor clarification.
A warrant article to rescind the change from a calendar year budget to a fiscal year budget also moved to the warrant unamended.
The Select Board had added the article to the warrant on Monday saying some voters were unaware last year when they voted to convert to a fiscal year budget that it would require an 18 month budget in order to make the switch.
Selectwoman Roberta Oeser spoke in favor of the article saying the town officials had not made it clear last year that there were financial implications attached to that vote.
If the 18-month budget is passed, taxpayers would see a $400 to $500 bump in taxes this year. That would be spread out over five years if the bond is approved.
Former Selectwoman Pat Barry, though, said she opposed the warrant article, saying Rindge voters are intelligent and knew what they were voting for last year.
"I think that's a very slippery slope when we open that can of worms," Barry said.