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Motion to cut Rindge budget by $100,000 fails

  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Rindge voters and town officials discuss the proposed 18-month operating budget and warrant articles at Saturday's deliberative session.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

RINDGE — A failed attempt by the town’s Budget Advisory Committee to cut more than $100,000 from the proposed operating budget at Saturday’s deliberative session caught the Select Board off guard and aggravated some voters, who said the adversarial tone of the meeting was distasteful.

Budget Advisory Committee Chair Tom Coneys made a motion to amend — and thereby reduce — the proposed 18-month operating budget of $5,424,329 by $104,329 through cuts to town staffing, employee hours and by recommending that employees pay more towards health and dental care premiums.

“We’re not trying to slam anybody,” Coneys said. “We know everybody that works here, but the taxpayers can’t bear the whole cost.”

Coneys’ motion — which failed in a secret ballot vote, 66 No votes to 39 Yes votes — was strongly criticized by the Select Board, Town Administrator Carlotta Lilback Pini and a handful of residents, who questioned why the Budget Advisory Committee waited until the town’s deliberative session to propose such a significant monetary cut. All six members of the committee had endorsed the proposed 18-month budget on the warrant, which voters said further added to the confusion.

Pini said the Budget Advisory Committee did not do their due diligence this year and that proposing a cut to the budget at “the eleventh hour” does a disservice to the voters and the budget process. The proposal, she said, is not rational and some of Coneys’ remarks inaccurate.

“I think this just demonstrates that people haven’t done their homework. It’s just a shame,” Pini said.

Select Board Chair Jed Brummer accused Coneys of throwing numbers around and confusing voters. Cutting employee hours and pay, Brummer said, would start “a hornets nest.” Rindge town employee salaries need to be competitive, he said, or else there will be a mass exodus of town employees leaving to accept jobs elsewhere.

Coneys said the Budget Advisory Committee has made multiple recommendations to the Select Board during his past three years on the committee, but that they have fallen on deaf ears. “The selectmen haven’t taken one recommendation seriously,” he said.

The handful of residents that weighed in on Coneys’ motion to reduce the budget by more than $100,000 did so while denouncing the hostile tone that town officials had taken towards one another.

“I’m embarrassed by the proceedings,” said voter Evelyn Goodspeed. “I think this adversarial environment has grown. ...I don’t feel that any of you are representing me. This isn’t about all the employees; it’s about the residents paying the bill.”

Resident Jim Critser said the economic environment over the past few years has presented major challenges for the average taxpayer. “The largest component of my personal budget is town taxes,” he said.

If there is an exodus from town, Critser said, it’s likely to be the residents and not the employees because the cost of living in Rindge is too high.

Much of the four-hour long deliberative session focused on the proposed 18-month operating budget and the financial impact for taxpayers if the town implements that budget. A one-time 18-month budget is necessary for the town to convert from a calender year to a fiscal year budget.

The $1.5 million bond article to fund six months of expenses in order for the town to make the transition to a July 1 through June 30 fiscal year moved on to the March ballot, with just a minor clarification.

At a special meeting of the Select Board last week, Selectmen Roberta Oeser proposed a warrant article giving voters the option to rescind a 2012 vote that enacted the fiscal year conversion and that, too, moved through deliberative session unamended. Oeser spoke in favor of the article Saturday, saying it gives voters the option to opt out of the fiscal year conversion if they choose to do so.

But if voters approve the warrant article, Rindge must petition the Cheshire County Superior Court to hold a special Town Meeting in order to implement a 12-month budget that starts Jan. 1 and ends Dec. 31.

Former Selectwoman Patricia Lang Barry spoke in opposition to the warrant article. Rindge voters are intelligent, she said, and most knew what a vote in favor of the fiscal year conversion meant last year. “I think that’s a very slippery slop when we open that can of worms,” Barry said.

Voter Joseph Hill agreed with Barry, saying he knew what the fiscal year conversion would mean for the town and its taxpayers. He asked people to think about whether or not the increased cost to hold a special Town Meeting are worth it.

Voter Pat Martin said she appreciated that voters now had an option to opt out of the fiscal year conversion. “But I think leadership is crossing that river when you come to it and not turning back,” she said.

Other warrant articles that will appear on the March ballot include, $18,000 towards the replacement of the Wellington Road bridge, $17,300 towards improved energy efficiency at the library, town offices and police station through building modifications, $35,000 for the purchase of a new command vehicle for the fire chief, $23,000 for new video cameras for police cruisers, $55,000 for the replacement of a 2001 one-ton truck at the Highway Department and $76,000 for the second of five lease payments for a fire truck lease approved by voters in March 2012.

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

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