SANDOWN – Though presented with several scenarios for moving forward with a default budget this year by finance director Cheryl Eastman, the board of selectmen has decided to wait to make any budget decisions until they can meet with department heads.
On Tuesday, March 11, voters turned down the operating budget put together in previous months by the selectmen, budget committee and department heads. As a result, the town must use a default budget. The gap between the numbers isn’t great but it still forces important decisions to be made by the selectmen soon.
The difference between the two sums comes to $10,082 or .29 percent of the operating budget. The default totals $3,445,641.
The default budget is meant to allow a town to cover all the expenses of the previous year reduced and increased, as the case may be, by debt service, contracts and other obligations and reduced by one-time expenditures. But the law surrounding the process can be at turns restrictive and unspecific, and boards of selectmen have the chance to move money around in their bottom line budgets.
Eastman presented five options to the board. The first of these included utilizing the budget exactly as detailed in a report they submitted to the state when the default was created. The next option accounts for areas in the default that are both higher than the proposals in the operating budget and less. In instances when the default is higher than the proposal, the proposal is used, and when less. the default was used. This results in a balance of $71,421. This account includes 2 percent Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) raises for employees. Option three does a flat line percentage decrease across all budgets and includes 2 percent COLAs. Option four uses the original default budget plus a 1 percent COLA. Option five uses the original default budget with a 2 percent COLA.
Eastman also pointed out that the selectmen will need to take into account the fact that the winter snow removal budget is already overspent by $166,000.
About $8,000 is available in the finance office to be spread around.
Sandown’s budget runs on a calendar year, so spending authorized in March has been taking place since January.
While the selectmen pondered the numbers, town administrator Lynne Blaisdell suggested the board meet with department heads. Blaisdell pointed out that the last time the town went to a default budget, the selectmen made adjustments line by line after meeting with the departments.
She noted that there could be unintended consequences of making changes without department input, as the expenses in some lines are mandated.
Selectman Steve Brown and new chair Hans Nicolaisen both agreed with Blaisdell. Both also said they were against the idea of including raises in the default budget.
Brown said that in his opinion the raises should be withheld, as the voters had spoken that they weren’t happy with the way spending was going.
The cost for 2 percent raises totals $24,825; 1 percent comes to $12,589.
Both also said they think department heads had done good work in coming to the town with reasonable budgets. Brown served on the budget committee this budget season.
After noting the small difference between the operating and default budgets Nicolaisen stated, “I felt they were very respectful budgets. It’s too bad they (voters) didn’t see that.”