Meredith selectmen look at $15 million budget with 4.4 percent hike

MEREDITH — Town Manager Phil Warren outlined a $15,360,000 budget request at this week’s selectmen’s meeting. The proposal represents an increase of $645,916, or 4.4 percent, from the 2017 budget appropriation.
Warren cautioned that the numbers are in flux as town officials fine tune the budget, but he said a projected 23 percent increase in health insurance premiums is the major driver for the rise in spending.
The proposed general fund budget of $12,454,169 represents an increase of about $486,000, with most of that additional cost being in personnel administration, which includes health insurance.
Warren said the increase is a result of the town’s claims history and has nothing to do with the “outside influences on health care.” Thirty-nine percent of the $450,000 in claims over the past year was due to a small number of large claims.
He said he is working with the insurance carrier to determine whether changes in the policy could reduce costs without creating larger out-of-pocket costs for the employees.
“I’m confident we can come up with something a little more palatable than this,” Warren said.
The proposed budget for the fire department is $359,406, an increase of $53,785, or 17.6 percent. Warren said it is increasingly difficult to get on-call firefighters for night calls and he is proposing a stipend of $25 per night for those on call.
“It’s worth a try,” he said.
The Parks and Recreation Department budget does not include staffing of the skateboard park, but Warren said they may want to include that money.
He noted that he has not heard back from Brendan Hart, who initiated a fund drive to upgrade the skateboard park facilities, to know where that effort stands.
Warren also said the department is looking to strengthen its senior program.
The town’s capital improvement program calls for $1,025,000 in spending, an increase of $145,000.
A new Public Works building and design work for a library upgrade are among the proposals.
Warren said that, by presenting the preliminary budget to the selectmen now, they will have a month to review it and make adjustments prior to the public hearing on the budget.