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Bennington

Town operating budget up $59K

Includes 1.5 percent raises for town employees, $8K more for Highway Department

BENNINGTON — The town’s proposed operating budget for 2014 is $1,744,590, a $58,711 increase over last year’s $1,685,879.

The town has budgeted $31,000 for a town-wide revaluation, which has not been conducted since 2009, as well as money to give each town employee a 1.5 percent raise. And the Police Department budget has grown $14,470 over 2013’s $227,925, in part as a result of the wages line item.

This year the department said goodbye to Officer John Giffin and hello to Officer Brett Sullivan, who came from the Peterborough Police Department. Since Giffin only had a few years of experience as an officer and Sullivan has 14 to 16 years of experience, Town Administrator Dee French said on Jan. 20 the cost to hire Sullivan was greater than hiring a newer officer like Giffin. Giffin’s pay when he left Bennington was $42,000 a year and Sullivan is being paid $52,000, French said.

All town employees will receive a raise of 1.5 percent in 2014, French said. The town accounted for these raises within each department’s budget line item under wages.

As a result of increases in wages, equipment maintenance and fuel, the general highway line item saw a $7,849 increase from 2013. Deputy Town Administrator Kristie LaPlante said on Jan. 22 the Highway Department worked well in excess of 40 hours of overtime in 2013. “They overspent a lot,” she said, noting that ongoing maintenance costs, $2,000 for truck repairs, plus the overtime hours and fuel make up this increase.

In years past, the Hillsborough County House of Corrections used to provide the town with labor via inmates to maintain the town’s cemetery grounds, LaPlante said. The cemetery line item increased by $3,100 from 2013 because the county cut that program. LaPlante said the inmates from Hillsborough were cordial and were extremely effective in what they did. Now the town has to pay for a contractor outside of town to maintain the cemetery, she said.

A bridge audit for the new Antrim-Bennington bridge that opened in late October will set the town back by $1,500 in 2014. Since it is a shared bridge, Antrim will reimburse the town of Bennington for their half of the audit cost and Bennington will pay for the entire audit up front, LaPlante said.

The government buildings line item increased by $2,000 over 2013, since the town is anticipating maintenance costs for the VFW in 2014, LaPlante said. In 2013, she said the town began work on the VFW, which included an energy audit and blocking off the kitchen from the serving area to save on heat. The town hall also requires some routine maintenance, she added.

The Recreation Department is proposing an increase of $1,000 to compensate for losing the town beach’s chemical toilet and other maintenance costs. The proposed 2014 budget is $34,600.

Since the state is in control of the public boat launch, LaPlante said they have always paid to have a chemical toilet at the nearby town beach on Whittemore Pond. In May 2013, a fishermen reported to the town that there was no chemical toilet at the beach. In 2013, the state stopped paying for the toilet, and LaPlante said the town never received a call about it. She said the town later found out the toilet was dropped as a result of budget cuts by the state.

The town purchased a chemical toilet in mid-May since they felt that it is something the beach needs, LaPlante said. Recreation volunteer and Library Trustee Victoria Burnham said at the Jan. 16 budget hearing that other maintenance costs have resulted from a smaller group of volunteers willing to do the work themselves.

“The Recreation Department is funded by town tax dollars,” Burnham said at the hearing. “This is a small community. We can’t pay for everything. When the Rec Department started, it was all volunteers.”

Expenses for computer maintenance and IT support under the general government line item saw an $850 increase, LaPlante said at the hearing. The town needed to purchase two new computers for the town clerk’s office because the computers were 10 years old, she said. Because the state previously provided maintenance and IT support for these computers, the town needed to acquire a new IT support which now takes care of the computers used by the clerk’s office, town administration, the Police Department and the Highway Department. LaPlante said the IT support provides more security than they previously had through the state.

“It’s frustrating to take on the expense but we were not blind-sided,” LaPlante said in an interview.

The library’s line item also saw an increase due to the purchase of a new photocopier in 2013, LaPlante said in an interview. The proposed budget shows that the library’s budget went up by $32,617, when it really only went up by $598, LaPlante said. The reason this line item appears significantly larger on the comparison worksheet available at the hearing is because town administrators moved the library employees payroll to the library operating budget, instead of under the administration payroll budget where it has been in previous years, she said.

According to LaPlante, the new code enforcement officer, Ed Hunter, is really involved. Through his work, LaPlante said the town has seen an increase in revenues of 24 percent in building permit revenue. The town took in $2,422 in 2012 and $3,012 in 2013, French said in an interview Monday.

The transfer station also experienced an increase in revenues in 2013, according to Town Moderator John Cronin, who spoke at the hearing. Cronin said the 2014 proposed operating expenses are budgeted at $95,151.

In 2012, the Transfer Station took in $13,292 in revenue and in 2013 the station took in $16,607, French said.

Lindsey Arceci can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 232, or larceci@ledgertranscript.com.

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