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Manager's budget would hike Salem town tax by 2%

SALEM — Town Manager Keith Hickey is proposing a 2014 municipal budget that would see a 2.14 percent increase in the town's portion of the property tax rate from $7.02 per $1,000 of valuation to $7.17.

The proposed operating budget for the year is $40,484,961.

Taking into account water and sewer budgets, the roadway budget, and some capital projects that will be paid for either through bonding or unassigned funds that will not impact the tax rate, the total amount of spending set forward by Hickey for 2014 is $51,177,790.

Some of the items outside the operating budget include bonding for bridge and water treatment projects and the use of about $1.9 million of the town's unassigned fund balance to purchase a new ladder track and rescue truck for the fire department.

Going into the budget preparations, Hickey said the Board of Selectmen directed him to attempt to prepare a budget that would keep the tax rate flat while also requesting 3 percent increase in the road and highway budget to $4.75 million.

Hickey said he did not feel he could increase the roads budget by 3 percent and come in with a level tax rate.

Selectman Stephen Campbell said he was disappointed that the town manager did not come in with the budget as requested by the board and asked Hickey to prepare a list of five town positions that could possibly be eliminated and the total amount of savings associated with each position.

Hickey said that the town is running on as low a staffing level as he is comfortable with, and could not recommend cutting any positions from the budget. He did agree to prepare a list of the costs, including salary and health insurance costs, for every employee in town.

"I'm disappointed that this is not a zero percent budget, and I thought the board said we would purchase one fire vehicle and pay cash," said Campbell.

During the budget presentation at Monday night's selectmen meeting, Hickey did present a list of items that could be cut from the budget totaling $580,000 that would effectively keep the property tax rate level.

However, Hickey said he did not support those proposed cuts from the budget.

Campbell noted that any significant cuts to the budget would have to come through staffing.

"Personnel costs drive this and personnel costs are where we have control," he said.

Selectman James Keller said Monday night was the initial presentation of the budget and that the board will begin budget workshop meetings on Sept. 4.

"The majority of the board told the town manager to pay for the fire equipment with cash and it's paid with cash," said Keller. "I won't react until I look at this in detail. I support the goal of a zero increase, and I will work my butt off to get to that."

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