CHESTER – At their budget hearing earlier this month, the budget committee finalized the budget they will be sending to Town Meeting in May. While the committee is an official budget committee that creates the budget for each town meeting, the selectmen have disagreed with a few of the numbers and will also be submitting their own budget for a vote next month as well.
The two budgets differ in a few key areas, but the bottom line difference is $144,267, with the committee coming in with the lower number.
The committee’s bottom line is $3,990,424, an increase over current year spending (after debt) of $143,569. It represents a 3.73 percent increase.
The selectmen’s number shows a 7.48 percent increase.
There are three major areas of disagreement between the two groups. These show up in the general government, public safety, and the highway, streets and bridges portions of the budget.
The main area of contention in general government is over health and dental insurance. The budget committee wants employees to pick up more of their health premium costs. In the committee’s workup, single plans would go from a 10 percent to a 15 percent employee contribution, and two person and family plans from 15 percent to 20 percent. This represents a difference of a little over $19,000 between the two groups’ figures.
The selectmen have argued that it’s not the budget committee’s place to force their hand on insurance policy and noted they were uncomfortable making employees pay more, some of them potentially being “upside down,” or earning less than in the current year.
But the budget committee points to an 11 percent increase to premiums this year and the fact that even with the increased contribution levels, taxpayers will be required to cover an additional $66,000 for employee health insurance coverage this year.
In public safety, difference of opinion on how a police cruiser should be purchased led to a $41,999 difference between the two groups’ budgets. The selectmen want to include the cost of a new cruiser in the budget, but the budget committee argues that it is wiser to place the cruiser in a warrant article attached to the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) in order to make that program viable for the police department.
The highway budget is where the most disagreement lies.
Road agent Mike Oleson asked for an increase of $10,000 in the road agent line to keep that amount more in line with actual expenditures. The selectmen agreed on a compromise of $5,000 to that line, but the budget committee has decided against any increase and has flatlined that number at $10,000.
The committee includes $7,999 less than the selectmen in the plowing overtime line. The committee argues that plowing overtime should be paid from the town’s emergency winter operations fund, the winter road maintenance capital reserve fund, rather than out of the regular budget.
The sum of $60,000 came out of the road agent’s request in the asphalt line. The committee argues that there are two warrant articles asking for a total of $550,000 for road repairs and thus an increase in the asphalt budget is not justifiable.
The committee also disagrees with an additional $5,000 in the surveying/ engineering line, saying that historically the sum hasn’t been completely used each year. They reduced the proposed number by 50 percent.
Town Meeting is set for Saturday, May 17, at 9 a.m. in the multipurpose room. Along with the budget, more than 20 warrant articles are set to be decided upon.
The secret ballot portion of Town Meeting will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 13.