Hancock’s proposed budget up 2 percent

HANCOCK — Voters will be looking at a 2 percent increase in the town’s operating budget when they go to Town Meeting on March 16. They’ll also be asked for $85,000 to build an addition at the recycling center to replace the current storage trailers and for $45,000 to install a wood-pellet boiler to replace the oil furnace at the town office building.

Health benefits and rising oil costs are the chief contributors to the budget hike, according to Town Administrator Barbara Caverly and DPW Director Kurt Grassett.

The employee benefits account in the budget went from $265,629 last year to $279,782 in the proposed budget, a 5 percent increase.

“We have to budget for the worst-case scenario on health care,” Caverly said on Thursday. “We use the Local Government Center numbers and we are planning to look into other options at some point.”

Grassett said rising oil prices mean higher costs for asphalt and most other materials used by the Highway Department. He said the department is also hurt by decreases in state highway block grant funding.

“The state’s gas tax hasn’t changed since 1990, so we’re trying to work in a 2012 environment with 1990 money,” Grassett said on Thursday. “The town has lost $20,000 over the past two years and making it up resulted in about a $16,000 increase in the highway budget.”

The highway budget of $463,822 is about a 9 percent increase over last year.

Caverly said the Select Board included a 3 percent wage increase for town employees in the budget.

The 14,000-square-foot recycling center addition will enable the town to get rid of three trailers that are currently used for storage.

“They aren’t road worthy and are just used to store loose recyclables,” Grassett said. “The current configuration set up more than 20 years ago. At the time, all recycling was handled loose. Now we need to bale and ship, so we need more storage area. We felt the best option would be an addition off the back of our building, to allow everything to remain under one roof.”

Grassett said the addition is also expected to house the town’s Swap Shop, which is currently next to the area where people park to drop off recyclables. Grassett said the new location would be safer for those using the shop, especially children.

“We’ve had issues of people not realizing they are in parking lot,” he said. “We have seen a number of close calls.”

He said the Swap Shop would have its own parking area and should have about 300 square feet of space, which would enable the volunteers to take larger items than they can at present.

The request for a pellet boiler and backup propane boiler at the town office was prompted by rising oil costs and the need to deal with a 2,000 gallon underground oil tank.

“To bring the tank into compliance with federal law, we’d have to spend more than it costs to remove it,” Grassett said. He said members of the town’s Energy Committee spoke with people from the Harris Center and the town of Peterborough, which have both had what Grassett described as “fantastic experiences” with pellet boilers.

The $45,000 for the boilers would come from the town’s fund balance, so it would have no impact on taxes. Grassett said the committee is also investigating grants that could pay some or all of the cost.

The warrant also calls for $200,000 to upgrade the town’s water treatment system, which serves homes in the section between Juggernaut Pond, the town’s water source, and Norway Hill.

“We have to come into compliance with new regulations of Clean Water Act,” Grassett said. “We are the last unfiltered water system in the state.”

The town currently disinfects the water with chlorine, but by 2014, federal regulations will require a secondary disinfection method.

“We’re estimating what it will cost,” Grassett said. “We have to pipe in two reactors, to have a primary and a backup.” He said the Water Department’s building off Eaton Road near the pond will require an addition to house the equipment.

The $200,000 will be paid by users of the system, and water rates are expected to rise by about 65 percent over the next four years,” Grassett said.

“The rates hadn’t changed in 25 years,” he said.

The warrant also includes an article to raise up to $5,600 for resurfacing and repainting the town’s tennis courts. Some of that money will come from the town’s Tennis Special Revenue Fund, which is currently being increased through a fundraising effort that has so far generated about $800 in private donations, according to Caverly.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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