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Rindge without a 2013 budget

  • Rindge voters take to the polls on March 13<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Laura Sullivan of Rindge casts her ballot at the polls at the Rindge Memorial School on Tuesday morning.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Rindge voters take to the polls on March 13<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Rindge voters take to the polls on March 13<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Rindge voters take to the polls on March 13<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

RINDGE — The town is without a budget after voters rescinded a 2012 vote at the polls Tuesday that would have changed the town’s fiscal year with a one-time 18-month budget.

Rindge must now petition the Cheshire County Superior Court to hold a Special Town Meeting this spring, in order to implement a 12-month budget that starts Jan. 1 and ends Dec. 31. But until the Superior Court grants the town’s request, which is not guaranteed, Town Administrator Carlotta Lilback Pini said Wednesday that the town is in limbo and will have to spend conservatively.

Though a majority of voters cast their ballot in favor of the 18-month, $5,424,329 operating budget, the vote to rescind takes precedence and the 18-month budget does not apply, according to town officials. Voters approved the 18-month budget with 558 Yes votes to 381 No votes, while the vote to rescind passed 530 Yes votes to 394 No votes.

The Select Board, which includes newly elected member Dan Aho and continuing members Roberta Oeser and Sam Seppala, will meet for the first time as a board on March 20, and Pini said between now and then she will be drafting a proposed timeline for the development of a 12-month budget. Pini said Wednesday morning that she had spoken with the town’s attorney and that he would be drafting a petition to the Superior Court as soon as possible.

“It is going to take a couple of months,” Pini said of the estimated timeline, from the creation of the 12-month budget to the Special Town Meeting vote.

Voters had the option of bonding six additional months of expenses, or up to $1.5 million, in order to spread out the foreseeable impact that the July 1 to June 30 fiscal year conversion would have had on taxpayers. But voters defeated that warrant article by 127 votes.

Oeser told the Ledger-Transcript on Wednesday that the plan to covert the town’s fiscal year to align it with that of the state’s would have come at a cost some taxpayers said was too high. That’s why Oeser suggested at a Select Board meeting in January to add to the 2013 Rindge warrant an article that gave voters the option to rescind last year’s vote, and she received the backing of the board.

“It’s a question of priorities,” Oeser said by phone Wednesday. “[The fiscal year conversion] is a $1.2 million tax burden and we wouldn’t have had anything to show for it. ...To spend that kind of money for a bookkeeping change doesn’t make sense when our roads are a mess and our public facilities are falling apart. The rescind was a win for the taxpayers.”

Oeser said she believes a majority of voters approved the proposed 18-month budget because it was $156,129 less than the default budget of $5,580,458. If the article to rescind did not pass, she added, voters did not want to risk defeat of the budget.

Seppala agreed with Oeser that if voters didn’t feel strongly about the advantages of a fiscal year conversion, they should not have been locked into a 2012 vote. “Personally, I was in favor of getting in sync with the state, but I knew that there was a cost, and the voters chose in these tight economic times not to spend the money,” he said.

In developing the 12-month budget, Seppala said town officials must do their best to rein in costs and keep the 2013 budget in line with the approved 2012 budget of $3.6 million. “Voters are saying they can’t afford any increases in taxes,” Seppala said.

But because the town will not be moving forward with an 18-month budget, outgoing Select Board Chair Jed Brummer said the town will face additional expenses to hold a Special Town Meeting. According to town officials, the cost to do so is less than $5,000, but difficult to pinpoint.

“I was disappointed that the 18-month budget didn’t pass,” Brummer said, referring to the voters’ decision to rescind the fiscal year conversion. “If the townspeople knew exactly how changing the fiscal year would benefit day-to-day operations, they would have supported it. Sometimes people vote on someone else’s advice or don’t know the information behind [their vote].”

At the polls at the Rindge Memorial School on Tuesday morning, voters offered mixed responses when asked whether or not they support a conversion of the town’s fiscal year and the 18-month budget. While many noted the benefits of having the town’s budget cycle in line with the state’s fiscal year, they expressed concern about the foreseeable tax impact this year.

“In the long run it will benefit the town, but the way it was presented was totally inappropriate,” said Hank Whitney. “The facts weren’t presented last year; people didn’t know the financial impact of this [fiscal transition].”

Whitney added that he would rather spend $1.5 million, the anticipated cost of budgeting an additional six months, on improvements to the town’s infrastructure and public safety facilities.

But voters Sharon Rasku and Joseph Hill said they were well aware of the financial impact of the fiscal year conversion and support an 18-month budget. “It makes the a lot of sense to have the town and the state on the same [budget] cycle,” Hill said. “It’ll allow the town to coordinate their budget process so we’re not expending money before we have it.”

In addition to the defeat of the 18-month budget, voters shot down a warrant article that if approved would have added $100,000 to the Library Facilities Capital Reserve Fund. The library has set aside about $200,000 towards future renovations and expansion of the Ingalls Memorial Library, but needs an additional $400,000 to complete the project, according to Alternate Library Trustee Jim Qualey.

Voters also defeated a warrant article for $15,000 to fund the purchase of an exhaust system for the Highway Department’s garage, as well as $23,800 for the purchase of three new video cameras for police cruisers.

Voters approved the second of five lease payments, $76,000, for the Fire Department’s newest fire truck; $140,000, with $70,000 being withdrawn from the Fire Department Equipment Capital Reserve Fund, to purchase replacement self-contained breathing apparatuses for firefighting; $35,000 for the purchase of a vehicle to replace the Fire Department’s command vehicle, or chief’s truck; $17,300 for energy efficiency upgrades in municipal buildings; and $55,000 for the purchase of a new truck to replace the 2001 one-ton truck in the Highway Department.

A majority of voters approved five proposed zoning changes, too, including an amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance to permit gasoline sales or service stations in the Gateway East District, which is located on the westbound side of Route 119, and runs from Butternut Lane to the Sepco station.

In an email to the Ledger-Transcript on March 8, Planning Board Vice Chair Kim McCummings encouraged voters not to support the warrant article, saying both planning officials and residents felt that “any new gas sales or service stations should be in the business light district, where the use is allowed, and that the two existing stations were adequate for that section of Route 119.”

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