Rindge budget proposal finalized at $5.35 million
Published: 01-11-2024 12:12 PM
Modified: 01-15-2024 12:51 PM
The Rindge Select Board approved a $5.35 million proposed budget following the town’s budget hearing on Wednesday, making few adjustments during the hearing itself.
The board eliminated a total of $3,500 – $1,000 from the code enforcement department and $2,500 from a proposed $5,000 budget for Conservation Commission property maintenance. The adjustments left the final figure at $5.35 million, compared to last year’s budget of $4.95 million, or about an 8% increase. The default budget, if the proposed budget does not pass, is set at $5.08 million.
Chair Marybeth Quill asked about the possibility of scaling back some wage adjustments, but Selectman Karl Pruter said they were an attempt to address what has become a standing issue for the town – employee turnover – and the board did not make any cuts.
“I think this is a chance to fix a perennial issue of losing people,” Pruter said.
Pruter added that the town will have to keep up with the issue of wages year to year, but this adjustment would fix some employees that were far out of line with where they should be, and that the increases in coming years shouldn’t be so steep.
“We could drag it out over two years, but what do we lose in the meantime?” Pruter asked.
Of a total of 21 articles on the warrant this year, the Select Board approved most of them to move forward unchanged, with some changes to language. The article originally proposed to be the final one on the warrant sought to use bond funds left over from the town’s bond to install broadband internet infrastructure town-wide, but was eliminated due to not enough information about what the funds could be used for.
In 2020, the town approved a $2.6 million bond to build out fiber internet infrastructure, in a partnership with Consolidated Communications. According to Town Administrator Lori Rautiola, the buildout came in under budget, and the town has about $60,000 left of the the bond that has yet to be spent. Paying back the bond is done through user fees from Consolidated Customers. Rautiola said there are other potential uses for the funding, but no specific projects proposed.
Although the board voted to eliminate the article, though the funds will remain carried over in reserve.
The other article the board agreed to amend was a proposal to add $50,000 to the town’s Police Department Equipment capital reserve. After research, the town believes that fund was created for the purpose of purchasing new police vehicles, rather than general equipment. The board agreed to keep the amount the same, but instead request the creation of a capital reserve that would be for both vehicles and equipment. Selectman Bob Hamilton said if the article passes, the town can put forth a warrant article at a later date to close the previous reserve – which currently has less than $500 – and transfer the remaining funds to the new account.
The majority of warrant requests this year are additions to capital reserves, including $45,000 for Fire Department equipment, $60,000 for revaluation, $100,000 for Highway Department equipment, $100,000 for building maintenance, $20,000 for the Ingalls Memorial Library reserve and $25,000 for the recreation facilities reserve.
The town is also asking for the fifth and final lease payment of $55,011 for the town’s fire rescue truck, first approved in 2019. The town will own the vehicle after making the last payment, if voters approve.
Another article would allow the town to accept and spent $130,000 in state bridge aid funds.
Quill expressed concerns that the budget and warrants would be too rich for residents to swallow.
“I think it’s pretty high. Is that amount of money needed for these funds?” Quill said. She questioned whether the board should cut some of the larger requests.
Department of Public Works Director Mike Cloutier pointed out that the $100,000 request for his Highway Department equipment reserve would pay for less than half the cost of a new heavy-duty truck, and that his department has multiple vehicles. Fire Chief Rick Donovan seconded the point, noting that a new fire truck now costs about $1 million.
Hamilton said it’s a choice of putting money away year by year, or asking for a large chunk all at once to make these purchases.
“It’s one way or another,” Hamilton said.
The board ultimately agreed to make no more cuts to the proposed warrant articles, and approved the warrant with the changes previously made during the meeting.
The town’s deliberative session, where voters can review all articles and offer amendments, is scheduled for Feb. 3 at 9 a.m. at the Rindge Memorial Elementary School. Voting on final articles is scheduled for March 12 at the Rindge Memorial School between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. All votes, including warrants, town officers and zoning amendments, will be taken by ballot.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or email@example.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.