New Ipswich

Petition warrant article calls for municipal budget committee, vote on wages

NEW IPSWICH — Road reconstruction, the purchase of a new fire truck, recreation improvements and the destruction of the long-debated Building No. 2 are among the big ticket items town officials are proposing on this year’s warrant. Meanwhile, residents are having their say, too, with petition articles seeking to change how the town crafts its budget and give voters more control over wages.

The town budget is proposed at $2,652,842, a 3.3 percent increase over the 2013 budget of $2,566,384. The default budget would be $2,566,729. A hearing on the proposed budget will be held Monday at 6 p.m. in the town offices.

At a public meeting on the subject in September, several residents requested that the Select Board investigate the cost for razing the former Police Department, a town-owned building known as Building No. 2, which was abandoned as an office space in 2008 due to a black mold infestation. The board has put forward a warrant article seeking $120,000 to demolish the building, after having several companies assess the job, Town Administrator Roberta Fraser said in an interview Wednesday.

Several town recreational facilities are addressed on this year’s warrant. Last year, a warrant article calling for $75,000 to repair the town pool was not enough to get the job done, Fraser said. When the Select Board put the job out to bid, prices came in significantly higher than anticipated. Work was started, but to finish the decking and coping work, another $75,000 is needed.

Another article seeks $12,000 for crack repair and repainting of the town tennis court. The court will eventually need to be replaced, said Fraser, but the repairs would allow it to be playable in the short-term. An ice rink would be added to the town’s recreation, for a cost of $4,200, if another article is approved.

The town will be continuing to address road improvements in multiple warrant articles this year. One article asks for $300,000, while another asks for $200,000 for reclaiming and reconstructing roads. In addition, a Transportation Highway Block Grant will pay for $124,438 in reconstruction, should the town approve the article to accept the grant.

Another article seeks to raise and appropriate $401,000 to enter a lease or purchase agreement for a new fire truck, with half the funds to come from the Fire Truck Capital Reserve Fund and the balance to be raised by taxation, grants or other sources. This article requires a two-thirds vote to pass.

Potential wage increases are responsible for some of the increase to the town’s operating budget. The Select Board voted earlier this year to approve up to a 3 percent merit-based increase in wages for all town employees. A petition warrant article on the ballot, brought forward by resident Becky Doyle may mean that in the future, all such increases will have to be put before voters. The petition asks that the voters be asked to approve any adjustments to town wages, including new positions, wage increases and employee bonuses.

Insurance premiums are up this year, too, Fraser noted. The town recently changed service providers, which resulted in a higher deductible for employees. Changes in health care law, though, still mean that premiums are up 4.9 percent over last year. Another petition article brought by Doyle addresses the issue, asking that town employees be required to contribute at least 25 percent of the cost of their health, dental and life insurance premiums. The article asks that employees pay 15 percent of premiums in 2014, increasing 5 percent each year for the next two years.

Two other petition articles brought this year address how the budget is developed. Town Clerk and Tax Collector Cindy Lussier asks that the town eliminate the Finance Advisory Committee, while Doyle asks that the town establish a municipal budget committee responsible for forming the town’s operating budget. Currently, the Select Board sets the proposed budget and, while the finance advisory committee reviews the budget and makes suggestions, the Select Board has final say on what put before voters. Should the petition article calling for a budget committee pass, an elected five-member committee would present the budget that appears on the ballot. The article calls for the first committee to be appointed by the town moderator and then elected thereafter.

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