Published Date Written by Roger AmsdenMEREDITH — Selectmen gave unanimous approval to a $13,627,633 town budget following a public hearing Monday night at which only three members of the public spoke.
The budget is up $892,315, or seven percent more than the $12,735,318 approved last year.
Town Manager Phil Warren gave a presentation on the proposed budget at the start of the hearing in which he said the 2013 budget features approximately $1.7 million in funding for capital expenditures that were deferred during the past four years.
That sum includes two police cruisers, a command vehicle for the Fire Department, upgraded information technology and $500,000 for road improvements. Almost $200,000 is allotted to expendable trust funds earmarked for future capital expenses while other funds will be applied to projects recommended by the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) Committee and to retiring existing debt.
The budget also includes a step increase of 1.25-percent and a two-percent salary adjustment for all eligible employees.
Warren said that revenues from sources other than property taxes remain flat at $4,471,410 but selectmen have used the town's undesignated fund balance (rainy day fund) to limit the amount raised by property taxes by applying $725,000 to supplement revenues and another $750,000 to fund capital projects.
The total tax commitment for the town is projected to rise by approximately $193,000 to $7,986,504, or by10 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, increasing the town portion of the tax rate from $4.20 to $4.30.
In response to a question by Mark Billings on the fund balance, Warren said that selectmen had a goal of keeping it at 7.25 percent of the town's total tax commitment, which includes school district spending.
Selectman Chairman Miller Lovett observed that over the past five years of difficult economic times the town had been able to actually build the fund balance by $1 million even though it had used the fund balance to help stabilize the tax rate.
''We've had some pretty tight budgets. But because we had a robust capital improvements program prior to 2008 we were able to defer a lot of items and reduced some of the expendable trust funds,'' said Selectman Peter Brothers, who said that now is the time to start planning to meet the future needs of the town.
Steve Merrill questioned whether or not, given historic low interest rates, it wouldn't make more sense for the town to be meeting its capital needs by borrowing now, ''when you're getting money for free, is it wise to continue deferring maintenance?''
Brothers said that the town has been refinancing its existing debt at every available opportunity and recently not only obtained lower rates but was able with a $50,000 expense to cut 10 years off from one of its loans.
Dave Sticht, a former selectman, asked what would happen if the Inter-Lakes School District were able to maintain its own fund balance.
Warren said that the town would most likely continue with its present fund balance policy as the school district does not have any control over the town's fund balance nor would the town have any authority over the school district's balance.