GILFORD — The Budget Committee sailed through its public hearing for the proposed town budget on Thursday unlike the previous night's tortured hearing over the school district's proposed budget.
Lasting just over 45 minutes, the committee approved a final proposed town operating budget for 2016 of $12,055,515. At the request of the administration, the final budget included $650 for the operations of the bath houses and snack bar at Gilford Beach and $2,351 for the cost provisions of the newly negotiated Police Department contract as negotiated by the Teamsters.
The default budget was set at $12,015,382, which is lower by $40,133.
The proposed budget is supported by the Budget Committee. In its meeting last week, selectmen voted to support its passage as well, despite the cuts in nonunion merit raises from an average of 3 percent to 1.5 percent as had been recommended by them.
Town Administrator Scott Dunn said at the public hearing that the town will continue to follow its personnel policy.
Finance Director Geoff Ruggles said yesterday that about one-third of the employees in Gilford are not represented by unions. He said Dunn is the only employee with a contract, so the employees affected include about eight to 10 employees at the Gilford Library, about 10 administrative staff members, the entire Town Clerk Tax Collectors Office, the two people in Parks and Recreation and the three in the Planning Department, all of the staff at the Fire Department and the administrative staff at the Public Works Department. All totaled, Ruggles said there are about 75 full-time employees in Gilford, with only the Police Department and the Public Works Department being represented by unions.
By law, the amount of money in the salary line item can be changed at the deliberative session of Town Meeting.
As in previous years, the majority of the members of the Budget Committee agreed with the three members of the Board of Selectmen that they would not support funding the requests from the so-called "outside agencies" whose requests total $59,130.
"Historically, I am not opposed to the work of these agencies," said Chairman Kevin Leandro, who went on to explain that traditionally it is a "long-held" practice to allow the voters to decide for themselves which, if any, of the agencies they will support.
When a member of the public noted that many area communities, including Laconia, include financial support in budgets, member Norman Silber said that it would be "highly irregular" to him to recommend all taxpayers support the agencies on a nonvoluntary basis, despite the "good works" they perform.
Leandro added that the "no" recommendations have traditionally not meant much because the Gilford voters have always "been pretty supportive of these agencies."
The agencies seeking funding from Gilford and represented by petitioned warrant articles 23 through 27 and include the Laconia Area Center of Community Action Program for $9,000; the Central New Hampshire Visiting Nurses Association for $23,500; New Beginnings for $2,630; and Genesis Behavioral Health for $21,000.
A speakers from Genesis, the Director of New Hampshire Fire Standards and Training Deb Pendergast spoke in favor of having the Budget Committee support Genesis. The agency provided mental health assistance form 3,843 people in fiscal year 2015, of which 189 were Gilford residents.
Sandra McGonagle, the town moderator, said that while she can understand the committee's and selectmen's reasoning about "not compelling" voters to support the agencies, she said she felt compelled to speak on their behalf because "we become truly a better community if we all work together."
"Think of the face of Gilford and how you reflect that face," she said.
McGonagle made her statement after the Budget Committee voted 7 to 2 with one abstention to support a petitioned warrant article that requests $750 for the Annual Candlelight Stroll through Gilford Village.
Town Finance Director Geoff Ruggles said the stroll began as part of Gilford's Christmas celebration during the 2012 Bicentennial Celebration. He said the committee continues to raise money through donations, while Parks and Works Director Herb Greene said there are a number of fundraisers that will continue throughout the year. The committee voted 7 to 2 to support the stroll, with David Horvath Sr. abstaining.
Gilford's deliberative session of Town Meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 7 p.m., at the Gilford High School auditorium.
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