Gilford Selectboard presents 2014 budget that calls for 2.5% increase

GILFORD — The Budget Committee got its first look at a proposed 2014 budget that is $250,000 greater than this year's and represents about projected 13-cent increase in the 2014 municipal tax rate.

At $13,099,643, the 2014 budget proposed by the Selectboard includes a 3 percent average merit pay increase for all employees, including department heads, who, according to board Chair Kevin Hayes who presented it, haven't gotten raises in the past three years.

"After level funding the municipal budget for the past five years, we feel a 2.5 percent increase (in the tax rate) is fiscally responsible," Hayes said. This 2013 municipal property tax rate is projected to be $4.88.

The municipal tax rate reflects but one part of the overall tax rate that factors in the county budget, the school budget and the statewide education property tax.

Hayes said the selectman's budget reflects about $1 million in cuts from the initial department requests and warned the committee members that some of the department heads would likely express their concerns regarding the selectman's cuts during their budget presentations.

He said the town estimated property evaluations will increase by .75 percent in 2014, which is the year for a complete revaluation, as is required by state law. He said projected revenue is up from last year and Finance Director Geoff Ruggles said that he expects the town to have a small surplus at the end of this year.

All 2014 capital outlays, totaling $556,500, will come from the surplus if approved at Annual Town Meeting. Hayes also told Budget Committee members that every $100,000 of spending roughly equals seven cents in the tax rate.

One of the biggest budget items is the re-establishment of the position of operations manager in the Department of Public Works budget. Hayes told the Budget Committee that the goal is to hire someone for the position who can be trained to take over when longtime Director Sheldon Morgan retires.

Morgan hasn't not set a date for his retirement but said he is meeting with selectmen sometime in the near future.

Hayes said selectmen support the Public Works Department request for an increase of $175,000 for road construction because the town is behind on its 10-year road construction plan.

"We consider our roads as an investment," Hayes said noting that the Cumberland Road Culvert collapsed during the spring rains cost the town $147,000 in emergency repairs and the $175,000 is expected to get the town caught up to the plan next year.

The DPW is also asking for an additional $22,000 for road sealing and $4,000 for some traffic signs. A heavy-duty truck with a plow and a light-duty truck with a plow are in the capital budget.

Selectmen support adding $9,000 for new water meters for the sewer department for contractual commitments to meter upgrades that the town has previously not funded. Hayes said Morgan asked for more.

The Fire Department is asking for a new ambulance and will close out the ambulance fund of $59,000 and add to it some money in the ambulance revolving fund, which doesn't need a town appropriation.

The town is also experimenting for the first time with buying back unused sick and vacation time. He said the proposed buyback rate is between 25 cents to 50 cents on the dollars and the maximum number of buy-back days is two. The Department of Public Works contract includes the buyback provision however the police contact does not. The police contract expires in 2014.

When asked, Hayes said that selectmen are using the proposed buyback as an incentive to employees to not call in sick just to use up their sick time.

Along with the $1.2 million police department renovation project, the selectmen also recommended one additional patrol officer, bringing the number of sworn officers from 17 to 18.

When member Dave Horvath asked when the department went from 16 to 17, Hayes reminded him that the department has been at 17 for a while but a few years ago selectmen had recommended cutting to 16 and the Budget Committee restored the position.

Selectmen approved an increase in hours for the library custodian from 20 to 25 hours per week but said the bottom line for the Gilford Public Library is down by $1,700.

When Horvath questioned the selectman's decision not to combine two part-time positions at the library into one, Hayes said selectmen chose not to add any positions that come with benefit packages to the library budget.

Hayes also said selectmen recommend reducing the cemetery caretakers hours from 37 hours to 26 hours so they could eliminate the benefits that go with that position.
Dunn said the town will wait until the 2015 budget is under consideration before they make any more similar recommendations, saying they first want to evaluate the impact of the federal Affordable Healthcare Act.

This year's selectman's budget includes $78,162 for Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid. Hayes said the town should see at least the equivalent reduced from the Belknap County budget, adding selectmen plan on sending a letter regarding this reduction to the county commissioners.

The Budget Committee begins meeting with department heads on November 17.

The Gilford School District budget will be presented to the Budget Committee in early January.