At the Town Council’s Nov. 15 budget workshop, Town Manager Kevin Smith recommended a $28.5 million default budget for Fiscal Year 2016, which represents a 1.25 percent increase over the previous fiscal year.
“The Town Council directed us to come in with a bottom line budget within the FY15 default amount,” Smith said, noting the FY15 budget was $28.1 million.
The total estimated town tax rate for FY15 is $5.13, a $.04 decrease from this year’s tax rate, resulting from an increase in commercial assessments, a decrease in total appropriations from FY14 to FY15, and outside revenues coming in higher than projected.
Smith informed the Council he is recommending as part of his proposed budget using $870,000 of the Town’s $4.7 million Undesignated Fund Balance for the Expendable Maintenance Trust Fund, a $1,000 annual investment in maintaining and upgrading town facilities; the Capital Reserve Fund, a $500,000 allocation for ambulances, fire trucks, fire equipment, highway trucks, Pillsbury Cemetery, and GIS (Geographic Information System) as needed; an allocation of $250,000 for the Roadway Maintenance Trust Fund; and $20,000 for a Zoning Ordinance Re-write.
Warrant articles to go to voters in March include five collective bargaining agreements still in negotiations (for which Smith said he has left a placeholder in the budget), a $500,000 allocation to the Roadway Maintenance Trust Fund ($250,000 to be paid by Undesignated Fund Balance and $250,000 to be raised by taxes), the Zoning Code Re-write for $120,000 ($20,000 to be paid with fund balance and $100,000 with taxes), and a $50,000 allocation for mechanical CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) devices for all three of the Town’s ambulances (see Fire below for details).
The budget also includes $130,000 to the Fund Overlay Account and $474,250 for veterans’ exemptions.
Smith additionally recommended eliminating the $90,392 Community Director position in the Planning Department and adding in its place a part-time secretarial position for $27,287. The town will continue to contract with an outside community development consultant, with the Planning Department assisting in the Town Office.
“We are in the process of doing an audit of all departments and seeing where our needs are and where we need to maximize our time to run as efficiently as possible,” Smith said, requesting that the $90,392 balance from the Community Director position be put in the Town Manager Services line until the audit is complete and the needs of various departments are identified.
Additionally, the Council considered during the budget workshop at the request of Councilor Jim Butler creating a special revenue account for ambulance vehicles and equipment, which are funded through the Capital Reserve Fund.
Controller Doug Smith said the tax impact in the first year in other communities that established such a fund varied depending on the model they used.
North Hampton, for example, saw an 11 cent impact on the tax rate in the first year ambulance fees were redirected from the general fund to the new account for ambulance vehicles and equipment.
Smith noted the Council’s decision will ultimately impact the town’s tax rate.
“The reason this is important to me is, obviously, we have seen growth in town and that puts pressure on police and fire. Fire service is changing. It used to be that 90 percent of a firefighter’s job was fighting fires. Now it’s medical,” Butler said. “I want to make sure this town is covered as best as possible when it comes to medical services. I don’t want to have to sit here and argue about why we didn’t buy an ambulance because we needed a highway truck.” Butler’s son is a Londonderry firefighter.
Fire Chief Darren O’Brien said a new, fully-outfitted ambulance costs between $280,000 and $300,000.
“If we take $500,000 in ambulance fees and put that into a special account, we’ll have plenty of money to purchase and equip new ambulances,” Butler said.
Councilor John Farrell said he doesn’t disagree the Town needs the services, he just wants to see a model for implementing the fund that makes sense for Londonderry.
After considering Smith’s presentation of the budget and his recommendations, the Council heard budget requests of department heads from Police, Fire, Public Works, GIS and the Leach Library.
With only two School Resource Officers (SRO’s) on the force to cover six public schools, Lt. Ryan Kearney said funds to hire an additional resource officer are greatly needed.
“From our perspective, we think a really important benefit to our community is increasing the amount of officers dealing with juvenile concerns,” Police Chief William Hart said. “Other than the airport, this is our single largest area of concern in our community.”
Kearney noted the department staffed four SRO’s in FY10, which he said pretty adequately covered the schools.
“Obviously it’s not realistic to have an SRO in every school, but the addition of a third will ensure someone is in the schools more frequently on a regular basis,” he said.
Starting in July 2015, a new law will require police in New Hampshire to treat 17-year-olds involved in a crime as juveniles, which Kearney said is expected to result in a 40 percent increase in juvenile activity for which the department is responsible.
“This will result in an increase in the roles and responsibilities of our SRO’s,” said Kearney, noting SRO’s generally try to handle incidents with juveniles at the schools in house, working in partnership with the school and parents to help children learn from their mistakes and self-correct. “There will be a lot more man-hours dealing with the 17-year-olds and helping them to understand we’re trying to assist them and work with them to keep them out of the court system.”
Kearney additionally noted SRO’s are the community’s single most effective tool in preventing school shootings.
“It’s a very proactive position,” he said, explaining that most shootings end soon after the police arrive.
“One issue and concern that comes up is if SRO’s are so valuable, why don’t we allocate someone from patrol levels to the schools,” Hart said, explaining SRO’s are a strong addition because the department is running with nearly the same staff levels as it had in 1989, despite arrests being up 20 percent and more serious crimes plaguing the community. “If we decrease staffing, there will be a diminution in services. We think this is an effective way to keep our children safe.”
The cost of an additional SRO would be $105,000.
“This is a position that we could include in the operating budget or put on the ballot as warrant article to allow the voters to make a choice. Whatever choice is made we will respect that,” Hart said.
Budget Committee member Dana Coons asked Kearney and Hart what the return on investment for the SRO is.
“The savings cannot be quantified in a dollar amount,” Hart said. “It saves the availability of an officer who investigates the burglary of your home. The officers who will be assigned to the schools every day deal with the issues of kids in those schools and really try to work as a partner with parents and schools to avoid the criminalization of our young people. This is one of the most high-value mitigation opportunities towns have – gathering intelligence, avoiding crimes of opportunity, and working with parents to address the issues kids have.”
“I would like to speak on behalf of the SRO program,” Councilor Joe Green said. “The police officer represents something different to children than before. I know my children came back to me when this started with a better understanding of what an officer does. The relationship you instill in these children at early age is important as they grow up.”
“You can’t talk about it as return on investment, it’s more like purchasing an insurance policy,” Budget Committee member Greg Warner agreed.
Included in the Fire Department’s budget presentation were allocations to hire four full-time firefighters at a cost of $400,938, as well as to purchase three mechanical CPR devices to outfit each ambulance at a cost of $50,000.
Funding for the mechanical CPR devices will appear on a special warrant article.
Smith said he did not include the additional firefighters in his proposed budget because the Town is still in negotiations with the fire union over a proposal to change the battalion schedule from four to three in an effort to reduce overtime costs associated with understaffing each battalion.
Smith said staffing three battalions would allow the Town to put 13 to 14 firefighters on each shift, as opposed to 10 firefighters, the number at which the town strives to maintain staffing levels.
When a battalion dips below the 10 firefighters, overtime costs accrue. And the Fire Department’s overtime costs have been steadily rising.
“By going to three battalions, we could have a fourth floating chief or deputy fire chief who could reduce that overtime as well,” Smith said, noting the Town was to go back into negotiations with the union on Nov. 17.
“I believe when we talked about adding firefighters last year, we said we wouldn’t even think about it until we deal with the overtime costs,” Green said.
The department also saw an unusually high amount of sick leave, with 16,100 hours used as of Oct. 30.
“To support this, I will need the Town Manager to endorse it,” Farrell said.
O’Brien said the department has seen a significant increase in the number of responses since 2006, with proposed residential and commercial developments to create an even greater demand for fire services.
The addition of four firefighters would give each Battalion 11 personnel on duty on a regular basis. The additional firefighter would allow administration to drop to staffing a level of 10 firefighters without the utilization of “replacement costs,” according to O’Brien.
But Councilors noted the Town would need to hire eight additional firefighters to significantly reduce the department’s overtime costs, which peaked at $828,031 in FY14, compared with $351,583 in FY04. Last year, the department’s overtime costs came in at $739,946.
“This is a stepping stone to where we need to get,” O’Brien said. “I’m basing my proposal on where we are today and where we are for call service. My proposal for a warrant article was to get ahead of the curve of other buildings going up. All of the upcoming developments together are going to have an impact.”
Green noted the planned 600-plus-acre Woodmont Commons will have an impact as well, and agreed there is a need to prepare for what’s coming, but noted the Town needs to project when tax revenue is coming in to offset the expense.
“I believe the fiscal impact studies are the way to really know what will be needed,” Butler said.
Farrell noted the Woodmont project is self-funded and by contract, the funding for impacts has to come from Woodmont.
“I believe the Town Manager should work with the life safety people to figure out what that means,” he said.
In regard to the requested $50,000 for fire equipment, O’Brien said he thinks the American Heart Association will make the mechanical CPR devices a requirement in the next three to four years.
“My plan would be, if we are able, to purchase these off the warrant article, and then fund them through the special revenue account for ambulances and equipment, if that is approved,” O’Brien said.
“This is a tool, and other than the first time we outfit something, I think the maintenance and replacement should be taken out of some other fund,” Coons agreed. “I don’t think the replacement of lifesaving devices should go as a warrant to be at the whim each year of the voters.”
In a presentation updating the Council on the value and future of the Town’s GIS mapping technology, GIS Manager John Vogl requested they support a $20,000 contribution to the program from the Capital Reserve Fund for flights to take aerial photos used to update town maps.
“We launched ‘Map Geo’ in July, which allows users to look at topography and zoning classifications for a property, and to toggle through the areas pretty quickly,” Vogl said, adding there are some “real exciting features coming in the next year.”
Almost every department in the Town benefits from its access to GIS mapping, as do developers looking for properties in Londonderry, according to Town Planner Cynthia May.
“There’s no better tool for the Town in economic development,” she said.
Of late, the GIS was funded by a 2003/2004 appropriation of $430,000 that Vogl said he was able to stretch for 10 years.
“The $20,000 requested is not ideal, but I think we can accommodate that,” he said, noting the key to stretching his dollars is well planned flights.
To maintain the GIS maps, Vogl said it’s necessary to complete an aerial photo capture every three years at a cost of $30,000; as well as an aerial/land base update every five to seven years at a cost of $60,000.
Hardware, such as a plotter, scanner, and GPS are purchased as needed, as are software updates.
“With all the development coming into the Exit 4 area, I think it’s time for an aerial update,” Vogl said.“I would love to fly more often. I think more flights would be beneficial, but I think this allocation buys us time. I think from a land-based perspective, five years is appropriate. Anything longer will be a stretch.”
Several department heads attested to the necessity of GIS mapping, noting it would cost the town significantly more than $20,000 to contract with outside vendors for the information the mapping system provides.
“John has been a very vital part of our mapping,” O’Brien said. “The information the maps have provided has quickened our response. We hope to use it in the future for the pre-planning process of surveying structures. It shows where hydrants are and much more. It’s a very successful program.”
Hart echoed O’Brien, saying the vulnerability assessments the police department conducted at each school were completed with Vogl’s assistance and using the GIS mapping system.
He noted that with any number of police related incidents, the department wants to look at the homes surrounding the area, the points of entrance, etc.
“This is a no brainer,” he said. “This is a great thing.”
Smith said if the warrant article doesn’t pass, he would be looking at ways to fund the mapping system otherwise.
“I have come to realize GIS touches every department and that it’s very important to them,” Smith said. “And I can say, developers love our website. There may not be another community in the state that has the level of detail we have when looking at a property.”
The primary concern Public Works and Engineering Director Janusz Czyzowski expressed in his budget presentation is a lack of funding for basic road maintenance and rehabilitation, which, if completed as needed, prevents roads from decaying and requiring more expensive repairs later.
Based on a recommended 12 year cycle of maintenance for the roads in Londonderry, Czyzowski said he should be rehabilitating 15 miles per year at a cost of $2.4 million, noting if the Town doesn’t maintain roads on the recommended cycle, it can cost four or five times more to complete repairs after substantial deterioration has occurred.
The town has been funding the program at $295,182 per year, allowing for 1.8 miles to be rehabilitated annually – a 102 year rehabilitation cycle.
“If you only paint your house every 100 years, what’s going to happen?” Czyzowski asked.
The Town is expected to receive an additional $504,841 from the Highway State Block Grant for shim and overlay.
Roads scheduled for shim and overlay in FY14 are Dan Hill Road, Griffin Avenue, Griffin Road, and portions of Hardy Road and Westminster Drive.
Total, full-depth reconstruction of the roads costs approximately $1.6 million per mile.
No funding is available in the Roadway Maintenance Trust Fund for full-depth reconstruction in the upcoming fiscal year.
Despite a dramatic increase in library use, Director Barbara J. Ostertag-Holtkamp said funding for materials has declined in the last several years.
The library is seeking a budget increase of 2 percent, which represents an increase of $5,952 for library materials, including books, electronic databases, books on CD, electronic books, downloadable audios, and music CD’s.
Ostertag-Holtkamp said last year the library paid over $5,000 just for membership to its electronic consortium, noting the use of downloadable books is increasing.
Budget Committee Chairman Ted Combes asked Ostertag-Holtkamp why the library didn’t use any of the $18,000 it returned to the Town last year to purchase new materials.
Ostertag-Holtkamp said quite a few improvements were completed last year, including the purchase of new shelving. Additionally, the library outsourced employees to save money on health insurance costs.
“We could have spent every dollar, but we try to give some back to the town,” she said. “If something is working, we use it. We don’t go looking to spend for the sake of spending.”
Farrell told Smith if he supports the additional funding for library materials, the Council will.
Moving forward with the Town’s budget process, the Council is scheduled to hold an additional budget workshop on Dec. 1, with preliminary warrant approval scheduled for Dec. 11.
A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for Dec. 15, and a bond hearing is scheduled for Dec. 22. A final public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Dec. 19, with Deliberative Session to be held on Feb. 7.