Board sends $13.9M budget to Meredith voters

MEREDITH — Following a public hearing yesterday the Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to recommend a town budget that would appropriate $13,902,674 in 2014, which represents an increase of $275,005, or two-percent.

With revenues from sources other than property taxes virtually flat for the sixth consecutive year, the amount to be raised by property taxes would be $8,352,424, which represents an increase in the town portion of the tax rate of 25 cents, or 5.5 percent, from $4.55 to $4.80.

The selectmen applied $1,250,000 from the town's undesignated fund balance to supplement revenues and offset property taxes.

Town Manager Phil Warren said that once again "fiscal restraint" was the overriding theme of the budget, which includes no new positions or job reclassifications and neither expands nor reduces programs and services. However, the budget funds a "salary adjustment" of 1.25-percent and a 2.5-percent upon a successful performance review.

At a workshop yesterday the Selectboard reversed its earlier decision to withhold funding to install copper gutters at the library after learning that the New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage awarded the town a grant of $70,000 for the project. Other capital investments include funds to purchase to pickup trucks, a police cruiser, rescue van, a crane truck and a chipper along with applying $100,000 to an expendable trust fund for equipment for the Department of Public Works.

When the floor was opened to the public, David Sticht expressed concern about the growth in the Parks and Recreation budget, which he said has risen from $788,766 in 2006, when it included the first annual bond payment of $254,000 for the construction of the Community Center to over $1-million in 2007 and nearly $1-million again in 2014.

"The costs are going up and up and up," Sticht said, recalling that when the Community Center was built revenues from programming were expected to defray operating costs. "Something is wrong somewhere," he continued. "This sure isn't what we were promised in 2004.

Selectman Peter Brothers said that "the numbers by themselves don't mean that much," explaining that there was a strong commitment to the department, the building and its programs in the community. He said that the selectmen have looked for ways to increase revenues, which were at $149,055 in 2013, and control costs. The center, he noted "is close to being overused." While acknowledging Parks and Recreation is a significant cost center, Brothers remarked "I don't see it in quite the same way as you do."

"I agree with both," gegan Selectman Herb Vadney, "but I think Mr. Sticht makes a very good point." He suggested undertaking a cost-benefit analysis of the Community Center, stressing that school enrollments have declined "substantially."

Warren said that when the Community Center was planned and constructed the projected operating costs were "not as accurate as they should have been."