Board discusses impact of failed budget on staff, raises
NEW IPSWICH — The voters have spoken, and in a narrow decision decided by just 18 votes, New Ipswich is under a default budget for the coming year. The board has yet to make any official decisions regarding what this will mean for this year’s finances, but some things the board had hoped for in their proposed budget — including employee raises and adding an additional full-time police officer — will likely not be forthcoming, said Select Board Chair George Lawrence.
The budget, proposed at $2,612,000 this year, failed in a 366-384 vote at the polls last week. Prior to making it to the polls, the proposed budget had already faced a cut at deliberative session from the original proposal of $2,666,843. The default this year is $2,571,934, nearly a $95,000 difference from the budget the board originally put forth.
Lawrence was re-appointed as the board chair during Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, with both his fellow Select Board members, Becky Doyle and Woody Meiszner, being first-time board members this year.
Resident Brian Somero, who was an outspoken opponent of the proposed budget this year, told the Select Board he would like to see the town be more conservative with its spending. The proposal to add a seventh police officer, for example, was just excessive, he said.
Police Chief Tim Carpenter had proposed the town use funds set aside for the buyout of the former police chief’s contract and funnel them into pay for another officer, once the buyout is completed in June.
Somero said he had disagreed with the buyout of the contract in the first place, and he had disagreed with the need for another officer. “[Somero] wants to make that burden permanent by adding a seventh police officer?” he asked the board. “When are the police, town and school going to stop acting like Washington D.C. and start caring about the town?”
Lawrence said that under the default budget, there likely wouldn’t be the funds available to support another officer in the Police Department. “This year, I don’t think it’s there under the default,” he said.
When asked about the proposed up to 3 percent merit raises for town employees, which was factored into the proposed budget, Lawrence said he didn’t think that would be a possible either. “It would probably be ludicrous to do now,” said Lawrence of the increases.
State Rep. Jim Parison (R-New Ipswich) asked what the town does in terms of outreach to the town, to inform them of the changes to the budget or information about proposed warrant articles prior to the vote.
Doyle noted that she thinks the town does very little in that regard, and could stand to improve. Years ago, said Lawrence, the town used to mail the town report to residences in advance of the meeting. Reports are available for pickup in the town offices prior to the vote, but the vast majority of citizens pick up their reports on voting day, when it’s not much use in making an informed decision at the polls, he said. The town does not participate in mass-mailings any longer, he added.
Parison suggested that the town invest in an electronic mailing list, which residents could sign up for through the website to receive town updates, as well as documents such as the town report or a mailing on the proposed warrant articles. Meiszner told Parison he is the second person since his appointment to suggest an electronic mailing list to him.
There had been funds allocated in the proposed budget for a website update and to maintain it, which could have allowed for a mailing list to be created and maintained, said Town Administrator Roberta Fraser. When asked whether the default budget would still allow for those updates, the board said it simply did not know yet.
Doyle said the board had not had a chance to review the budget in-depth and make those decisions officially, though they will begin that process soon.
Another aspect town business affected by the vote on March 11 is how the town will form its upcoming budget next year. During the polls, voters approved a five-member elected municipal budget committee. For the first year, the committee will be appointed by newly elected Moderator Bob Romeril. Romeril said Tuesday that he will be appointing the members in the coming weeks, and is currently seeking the names of interested parties who encouraged to contact the town offices.
Voters also denied the town the ability to do away with the Finance Advisory Committee, despite the fact that the presence of a Budget Committee makes the committee redundant. Lawrence said the committee would remain intact until voters abolish it, but likely the town would double up and make both committees the same to avoid redundancy.