Town seeks approval for 12-month budget

Officials will ask Cheshire County Superior Court to rescind the 2013 approval of 18-month budget; Special Town Meeting requested

RINDGE — The town will ask the Cheshire County Superior Court to declare “null and void” a 2013 vote to approve an 18-month operating budget of $5,424,329, and in turn ask for one Special Town Meeting to adopt a 12-month budget as soon as possible.

Voters rescinded a 2012 vote at the polls this March that enacted the town’s fiscal year conversion from a calender year budget cycle to a July 1 to June 30 budget cycle. That vote left Rindge without the authority to adopt an 18-month budget in 2013, and therefore without a budget, according to town officials.

Questions arose earlier this month about whether Rindge would have to petition the Superior Court for two special Town Meetings and not just one for the purpose of adopting a 12-month budget. Town officials had grappled with two contradictory votes: the 2012 vote to adopt the 18-month budget and the recent vote to rescind the town’s fiscal year conversion.

But the Select Board agreed at Wednesday’s Select Board meeting on an alternative solution that does not ask voters to rescind the 18-month budget approved in March. The town is seeking relief from the Superior Court by asking a judge to make the legal determination and declare the vote to approve the 18-month budget “null and void,” said Select Board member Roberta Oeser.

“We are petitioning for one Special Town Meeting in our normal format with a deliberative session,” Oeser said.

The town is expected to include an estimated 12-month budget figure in its petition, but Oeser said the town can amend that number before it appears in court or during its appearance.

At this time, the proposed 12-month budget is $3,772,260 — a 4.3 percent increase over the adopted 2012 budget of approximately $3.6 million, according to Town Administrator Carlotta Lilback Pini. The proposed budget is $11,000 less than the default budget, in part due to a vacancy in the planning director position, she told the Select Board on Wednesday.

In a memo to the Select Board, Pini outlined the major areas of increase, which includes $92,000 in pay adjustments, $11,000 in health insurance premiums, $35,000 in contributions to the N.H. Retirement System and $5,400 in Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes due to changes in town employee wages. The town’s contribution to the Jaffrey-Rindge Memorial Ambulance is up $5,000 and membership in Fire Mutual Aid is up $1,600.

On May 1, the Select Board is scheduled to hold a joint meeting with the town’s Budget Advisory Committee to discuss the draft budget and hear from department heads. A public hearing on the proposed budget is slated for May 15.

Pini said at Wednesday’s meeting that a judgement from the court as to whether or not it will grant a Special Town Meeting could take six to eight weeks. While the town had considered filing its petition with the court in late May, once it is further into the creation of the 12-month budget, it has since changed course.

“We are going along in tandem with this budget process and hopefully the two will meet somewhere,” Pini said.

Budget Advisory Committee Chair Tom Coneys, who attended Wednesday’s Select Board meeting, said the proposed $3.7 million budget is a concern because it demonstrates just how significantly wages and employee-related costs are increasing.

“All of the department heads have changed what they do operationally to reduce their variable costs,” Coneys said, “and we have done nothing from the front office to reduce our fixed costs.”

Pini responded to Coneys saying that the $3.7 million budget represents current staffing levels in town and levels of service that residents have become accustomed to.

“Reductions at this point will reflect in one of those areas,” she said. “Any decreases in benefits are going to have implications in terms of morale, recruitment and retention.”

Budget Advisory Committee member Kale Stenersen recommended that the town reconsider employee contributions to health and dental premiums, asking the workers to pay more.

Oeser agreed with Stenersen that the town is paying a lot and encouraging employees with families to choose the town’s plan rather than other options.

Also at Wednesday’s Select Board meeting, the town accepted $11,336 in unanticipated revenue from the sale of an old town fire truck, two out-of-service police cruisers and a former Highway Department dump truck.

The town accepted an additional $15,592 in public assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

That money will be used towards improving gravel dirt roads, which were damaged in the storm.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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