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Lyndeborough operating budget up 4.7 percent

LYNDEBOROUGH — Voters will weigh in tonight at the town’s budget hearing on a proposed operating budget of $1,639,787. The proposal is a 4.7 percent increase over last year’s budget. In addition, warrant articles totalling $332,766 are being proposed. If the budget and warrant articles are all approved at Town Meeting in March, total town expenditures will be $1,972,553, an 8.7 percent increase over last year.

Those numbers will be partially offset by an expected $590,641 in revenues, according to a draft budget worksheet supplied last week by Town Administrator Kate Thorndike.

One of the largest increases in the operating budget is the paving line, up from $90,000 last year to $115,000 in the proposal. Thorndike said the town plans to do additional paving in the coming year.

The overall police budget is up 3.5 percent, to $234,552. The department now has two full-time officers and four part-time officers. Lt. Rance Deware, the department’s officer in charge, works part time. With the recent shift in staffing, the town is budgeting $76,400 for wages for full-time officers, up from $43,205 actually spent last year, and $42,352 for part-time officers salaries, down from the $66,596 actually spent. The officer-in-charge position is budgeted for $45,820, an increase over last year’s actual expenditure of $40,654. When the three salary lines are combined, the town is budgeting for $164.572 in police officer and administrator salaries, up 9.4 percent from the 150,455 actually spent last year.

The town’s cost for police retirement accounts is expected to double, from $9,237 last year to a projected $18,300. That’s due both to having more officers and the town being required to contribute more than in the past as a result of cuts in state funding to the retirement system, according to Thorndike.

Proposed warrant articles include a request for $23,000 to buy a four-wheel drive police cruiser, which Thorndike said would replace an existing cruiser. The total cost of the cruiser would be $37,000, with $14,000 coming from funds approved in a warrant article at town meeting last year.

Town officials are also recommending starting three new capital reserve funds. One would appropriate $24,000 for eventual replacement of the Fire Department’s 2005 pumper and one would raise $19,000 for eventual replacement of the town’s 2008 Volvo dump truck. The third is a Bridge Build Repair Capital Reserve Fund, which the town would form by discontinuing two funds previously established, transferring in $63,866 from those funds and then adding $50,000 to the new fund.

Two warrant articles will appear on the ballot by petition.

One calls for $7,400 “to establish and accomplish a complete and thorough interviewing and vetting process for the hiring of the next commanding officer of the Lyndeborough Police Department. The money would be used for selection of an outside firm to handle the vetting process and establishment of a citizen’s panel to interview candidates as well as a panel that would include three Lyndeborough voters, one of whom would have to have professional law enforcement experience, to review candidates.

The other petition article calls for the Select Board to appoint a police chief, who would operate under the authority of state statute.

The two petition articles came out of a series of meetings held last year when some residents charged that the Select Board was interfering with the management of the Police Department.

Lyndeborough has been operating under an officer-incharge system since 2008, when voters at a special Town Meeting chose to eliminate the position of police chief after former chief James Basinas, who was fired by the Select Board in 2007, had taken the town to court. Earlier this year, some residents said the Select Board has too much say in the operations of the department under an officer-in-charge system. Capt. Thomas Burke resigned as officer in charge in June, saying the board interfered with scheduling and was demanding that he fire Sgt. Paul Roy. Roy was fired by the Select Board a few days after Burke resigned. The board then named Deware to the officer-in-charge position.

Burke and Roy sued the town in November, charging they lost their jobs after starting an investigation into the actions of Select Board member Donnie Sawin. Sawin has contended that Burke and Roy attempted to pressure him to resign from the Select Board, actions that prompted him to seek an inquiry by the Attorney General’s office. The Attorney General’s office eventually concluded there had been no criminal activity by anyone involved.

Tonight’s hearing is at 6:30 p.m. at Citizen’s Hall.

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