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January 09. 2014 10:55PM

Merrimack budget plan calls for 6% increase in spending

MERRIMACK — Next week town officials will begin analyzing the newly proposed budget of $30.7 million, which represents about a 6 percent increase over the existing town budget.

The recommended budget for 2014-2015 includes a significant amount of funding for various capital reserve accounts to address infrastructure needs such as road repairs, milfoil cleanup and new fuel pumps.

Town Manager Eileen Cabanel is proposing a budget of $30,786,991, an increase of nearly $1,780,000 over the existing budget of more than $29 million.

The biggest changes in the proposed budget are a large increase in health insurance costs and a predicted decrease of about $140,000 in revenue, Cabanel told the Merrimack Town Council recently.

Also included in the budget is a recommendation to hire a part-time worker for the town's Information Technology Department.

Cabanel is suggesting that $279,500 in additional capital expenditures be included in the new budget to pay for various projects such as road paving, a new town website and more.

According to Paul Micali, town finance director, $800,000 is being proposed for road paving throughout town. Ideally, he said the number should be closer to $1 million.

"We are getting there," he told the council during a recent budget presentation.

As far as revenues, he is anticipating motor-vehicle permit revenues to increase from $3.8 million to about $3.9 million in the next year.

Included in the overall spending plan is a proposed Fire Department budget of $5.2 million (an increase of $101,405), a Police Department budget of $5.5 million (an increase of $93,939) and a Highway budget of $2.4 million (an increase of $35,789).

Some of the recommended capital projects for the coming year include a bridge replacement on Bedford Road, town drainage improvements and the purchase of two new dump trucks and a command vehicle.

With an increase in health insurance costs, coupled with an extra emphasis on infrastructure and capital improvements, the town manager and finance director are anticipating about a 20-cent increase to the town portion of the tax rate if the budget is adopted as proposed.

The total valuation for the town is around $2.9 billion, and the town's portion of the tax rate is now $5.29 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. If the budget is approved as recommended, the tax rate would jump to about $5.49, they said.

The last time the town portion of the tax rate was over $5.50 was in 1999 when it reached $5.99. The lowest it has been in recent years was $2.82 in 2006.

Three upcoming budget meetings have been scheduled by the town council, which will begin at 6 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Jan. 20 at Merrimack Town Hall. Monday's meeting will address department budgets for parks and recreation, solid waste, wastewater, highway, public works, building and grounds, equipment maintenance and summer day camp.

khoughton@newstote.com


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