China Budget Committee members reviewed the town manager’s and selectmen’s recommendations for 2020-21 municipal expenditures at their Jan. 30 meeting. Their discussion again touched on the controversial stipends for volunteer firefighters, and in other areas suggested potential disagreement with the selectmen.
Another question raised Jan. 30 is how warrant articles will be written for the April 4 town meeting. There are two types of articles.
A “capped” article has the amount to be appropriated in the body of the article. In that case, voters cannot increase it; they can approve it or reduce it.
An “open” article begins with “To see what sum of money,” with recommended amounts from the selectmen and budget committee printed below the article. Voters can increase, approve or reduce the amount(s) printed.
Town Manager Dennis Heath said he intends to cap all appropriation articles. Budget Committee Chairman Robert Batteese predicted voters would not like the format and pointed out most articles have been open for years. Heath said he would write open articles if the selectmen direct him to do so.
The firefighters’ stipends are moved out of the fire department budget into the community support agencies budget, with $10,000 recommended for each fire department and for China Rescue.
During a brief review of the proposed fire and rescue appropriation, South China Fire Chief Richard Morse told committee members he believes the line item his department calls “recruitment and retention” rather than “stipends” should be left in the fire department budget. He added that he had asked for $12,000 for 2020-21 because last year he went over budget.
Morse left the meeting before discussion of the community support lines. Budget committee member Tim Basham’s motion to recommend $12,000 for the South China department’s recruitment and retention line was not seconded.
Heath has also moved requests from the China Lake Association and the China Region Lakes Alliance from Tax Increment Finance funding to community support. He said as of Jan. 1 the town no longer does bookkeeping and payroll for the two organizations; like other organizations, they will do their own paperwork and report to him how they spend taxpayers’ money.
A major issue for budget committee members was salaries for Town Clerk Becky Hapgood, Transfer Station Manager Tim Grotton and Public Works Manager Shawn Reed. Heath proposes promoting them from hourly workers to salaried managers, saying that in his administration they are functioning as managers, for example, preparing department budgets and hiring new employees.
When selectmen reviewed the draft budget Jan. 27 (see The Town Line, Jan. 30), they proposed equal dollar raises for all three that resulted in somewhat lower salaries than Heath recommended. Budget committee members thought since Hapgood is qualified – and designated, Heath said – to step in as town manager in an emergency, she should be paid more than the other two. They voted unanimously for 10 percent raises for all three, giving Hapgood the highest pay and Grotton, who has been with the town the shortest time, the lowest.
Heath opened the budget committee discussion with a brief review of expected revenues. Since many major items, like road maintenance and town office expenses, are covered by non-tax revenues like grants and fees, he does not expect the municipal budget will need much more from taxpayers next year than this year.
As the Jan. 30 meeting ended, Heath and Batteese recommended the following schedule: a Feb. 10 selectmen’s meeting and a Feb. 12 budget committee meeting for each group to review draft town meeting warrant articles and a Feb. 13 joint meeting to make final decisions. All meetings are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the town office.
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