Meredith selectmen pleased with budget less than a percent higher than last year but Parks & Rec cuts blasted by resident at public hearing

  • Published in Local News

MEREDITH — Among the fewer than a dozen residents at a public hearing last night, only Carl Johnson challenged the 2012 budget recommended by the Selectboard, charging not that it spent too much but too little. Specifically, he was upset by what he called "incredulous' cuts to Parks & Recreation Department programs.

Town Manager Phil Warren introduced the budget by explaining that the board continued to pursue "fiscal restraint" by seeking to keep the total amount to be ...

MEREDITH — Among the fewer than a dozen residents at a public hearing last night, only Carl Johnson challenged the 2012 budget recommended by the Selectboard, charging not that it spent too much but too little. Specifically, he was upset by what he called "incredulous' cuts to Parks & Recreation Department programs.

Town Manager Phil Warren introduced the budget by explaining that the board continued to pursue "fiscal restraint" by seeking to keep the total amount to be raised by property taxes as close as possible to the  the $7.7-million raised in 2008, which has been its benchmark for the past four years.

The proposed budget of $12,687,584 is $80,886, or just 0.64-percent, more than the prior year. It includes a one-percent wage adjustment and a step increase of 1.25-percent for both non-union and union employees. Town Meeting will be asked to approve an expenditure of $31,611 to fund the collective bargaining agreement reached with union employees at the Department of Public Works for 2011. With the collective bargaining agreement, total appropriations would be $12,719,195. 

Revenues from sources other than property taxes are projected at $4,466,944 and the board intends to supplement revenues with  $725,000 drawn from the undesignated fund balance (rainy day fund). With funding for abatements and war credits, the total amount to be raised by property taxes is $7,829,501, which at the current assessed valuation of the town of $1,845,422,650, represents an increase of six cents per $1,000 of assessed value on the 2011 tax rate of $12.65. 

The board stressed that despite reduced appropriations for the Highway and Parks and Recreation departments, the budget will maintain the level and quality of municipal services.

Johnson disagreed, telling the board that he found the cuts to the Parks and Recreation Department "incredulous."  The Community Center would  close an hour earlier, at 8 p.m.. The Independence Day concert, street dance, Easter egg hunt, Hershey track program, family fun night, family fun fest, holiday open house and tree lighting, family skating party, and movies in the park would be eliminated altogether.

"I smell a rat, if there is one to be smelled," Johnson said, suggesting that "somewhere it was determined that recreation has to be a self-funding department. In  particular, he took exception to the board's assumption that service organizations and private individuals would offer to fund the programs and activities eliminated by the budget. Stressing that "the dollar cost of these activities cannot be very much," particularly compared to the benefits they confer on the community, he told selectmen "figure what this is and put it back in the budget."

Selectman Miller Lovett said the budget process was the "most painful" in his tenure on the board and insisted that "the decision was not made lightly." He conceded the board anticipated others would pay for some or all of what the budget eliminated, but denied that it expected the department to fund itself.

"It's just bad government," Johnson replied, "expecting others to pick up the tab." He warned that once the funding was cut, "it's never coming back. You're picking on this for the wrong reasons," he added. "Pick on somebody else."

Both Selectmen Herb Vadney and Peter Brothers reminded Johnson that since the construction of the Community Center the budget of the Parks and Recreation Department has increased significantly and, less the revenue the department collects, amounts to approximately $500,000. "The core programs at the facility are being maintained," Brothers said.

Vadney called the cuts "a step towards freedom," explaining that the programs and activities might benefit without the involvement of the town. "I don't feel happy," he remarked, "but I don't feel particularly upset about it either."

Karen Sticht  assured the selectmen that Altrusa has already taken responsibility for the 2012 Easter Egg Hunt.