CHESTER – While the board of selectmen have not yet agreed on final numbers to be sent on to the budget committee, their preliminary budget numbers show an 8.3 percent increase to the bottom line.
An abbreviated board of selectmen met Thursday, Feb. 20, to review all budgets. In attendance were Joe Hagan, Joe Castricone and Rich LeBlanc. The group quickly looked over each department budget in turn, but made no changes and largely reviewed issues previously brought up during budget season meetings.
Finance manager Joanne Smith was in attendance to help the board review the numbers and often explained or clarified matters for the board.
A couple of the budgets were flagged by Castricone, who noted that he wanted to further review figures and potentially bring the numbers down. Castricone noted that the government buildings line needs further review because some of the projects included in the figures could wait a year. He did not give specifics.
LeBlanc noted that all of the projects included in that budget were provided to give a complete picture of the kind of maintenance town building infrastructure needs, maintenance that has often been put off. LeBlanc said that if the items included in the budget go to warrant article, the overview picture is degraded, and if the articles fail, the town falls further behind in maintenance and finds itself with a backlog.
Members present also discussed what to do with the recreation commission’s desire to run Town Fair expenses out of their revolving account. At an earlier meeting, representation from the commission noted that it would make organizing easier and still provide necessary financial oversight, but some selectmen, notably Jack Cannon, weren’t ready to take that step.
Last week, both Castricone and LeBlanc said it made sense to let the commission finance the fair through the revolving account, with LeBlanc saying that the board should give the commission incentive to run the event, and the way he saw it, giving them their way with the revolving account was giving them incentive to organize the fair the way they wanted.
Smith explained that at a previous meeting, Cannon and chair Steph Landau had indicated they were not comfortable with the revolving account idea and mentioned that the board would have to make a decision at a later date when all were present. If not in the revolving account, the funds would likely be budgeted.
At the end of the budget review, Hagan noted that the bottom line, before debt, showed an 8.3 percent increase.
“Is that reasonable?” asked LeBlanc of Smith.
“Depends what side of the table you’re on,” said Smith.
Castricone said a 3 percent increase would be better, especially given that the sum does not include any warrant articles.
He said the budget “is what we control and the warrant articles are what the people control,” expressing concern with what kind of increase the town might see if the budget and warrant articles are approved.
However, the people have control over all warrant articles, including the budget article, which can be amended during town meeting.
The budget committee’s budget is what ultimately goes to the warrant.
LeBlanc said that after reviewing the numbers, there wasn’t anything in the budget that couldn’t be justified.
Hagan said the board had reviewed all numbers and found each line reasonable. “But that’s only part of the decision. Now we have to make the next step and decide what we can afford. I don’t think there’s any fat in this budget,” said Hagan.
Smith told the board that in the coming week she’d be looking at calculating what the bottom line combined with warrant articles would add up to for a tax rate.