Council Cuts Social Services Funding, Considers Town Common Work

The Town Council agreed Monday to cut in half the Budget Committee’s proposed funding for social service agencies in fiscal year 2017.

“I’m looking at a bottom line recommendation that is about a 10 percent increase over last year,” Councilor Tom Dolan said. “I’m looking to reduce that by about half, for an increase of about 5 percent over last year. That’s about 2.5 times what our increase is. I understand that times are tough. But 10 percent growth in a single year seems to be a little more than I want to swallow.”

The 5 percent reduction means social services are proposed to be funded at $46,687, about $2,000 less than the Budget Committee’s proposal to fund the agencies at a total of $49,000.

Councilor John Farrell directed the Budget Committee to re-allocate the funds to the agencies as they see fit.

Member Tim Siekmann said the Committee may cut the funding for each of the agencies in half, but it’s also possible they will choose to de-fund the agencies that did not request funding in FY17.

Councilor Joe Green requested information regarding how much of the funding that the Town allocates to the various agencies is used for overhead costs, and how much of the funding directly impacts members of the community in need of services.

Before moving on to consider each of the proposed Warrant Articles during the Council’s Dec. 14 public hearing on the budget, Public Works Director Januscz Czyzowski said he is proposing the Town begin collecting recyclables on a bi-weekly schedule to save $1.5 million over the course of their five-year contract for solid waste collection.

Czyzowski noted at 65 gallons, the recycle bins to be distributed will be larger than those the Town is utilizing.

If the Town does switch to a bi-weekly collection schedule and uses Reclamation Trust funds to subsidize the cost of the bins, Czyzowski said he won’t need to increase the FY17 budget for recycling.

The Council expressed some concern the new schedule would cause confusion for residents, but Czyzowski said in consulting with other communities, he found other communities were not complaining about bi-weekly collection.

Green asked for more information about how the bi-weekly schedule would work in Londonderry, which Czyzowski will provide at the Council’s next meeting.

Budget Committee Member Greg Warner said he thinks the bi-weekly schedule “would probably work for most households.”

Moving into their discussion of the individual Warrant Articles, Councilors first asked Smith to provide more detail on how the funds in Article 9, a total of $300,000 for Town Common improvements, would be expended.

Councilors asked Town Manager Kevin Smith how specifically the funds in Article 9, a total of $300,000 for Town Common improvements, would be expended.

Smith said the Heritage Commission was to discuss at its Dec. 16 meeting installing a sidewalk around the perimeter of the Common, period lighting and other improvements they hope to see the Town move forward.

“The feedback is maybe people don’t want changes right now on the Common, or only part of it,” Smith said. “It may be the Article doesn’t need to be as much as $300,000, or we may not need an article at all. I think the meeting at Heritage will flesh out a lot of this.”

Farrell said it may be best to address drainage issues on the Common before the Town moves forward with any other improvements, and suggested hiring an arborist to help the Town understand the vegetation and trees in the area.

“That would put us in the position to come up with a plan, and it would cost a lot less than $300,000,” he said.

Dolan noted with all the events the Town hosts on the Common, they should consider providing town-funded Wi-Fi service from the bandstand.

Czyzowski said solving drainage issues on the Common would cost much more than $300,000, as the root of the problem extends down Pillsbury Road.

“I would recommend the drainage has to be resolved if you want to spend money on something else over there for sure,” he said. “The problem is drainage is not only an issue on the Common itself, but also on Pillsbury Road – the water just runs across the road.”

Farrell said the Council would like to see some options from the Heritage Commission on what they can do to improve the Common, but they need to figure out first how to address the water problem.

“We’ll follow the lead of the Heritage Commission,” he said. “We’re more concerned about it being a proper facility for use by the community and maintaining the character of the Common.”

Also discussed during the public hearing was Article 6, to raise and appropriate $38,000 for resurfacing the Town’s basketball and tennis courts on Nelson Road, which would have a tax rate impact of $.01 in FY17.

Green, who serves as liaison to the Recreation Commission, said the cost of patching up the courts would be around $15,000, and the work wouldn’t last long.

“We have invested a lot of town money in these areas before, and if we let it go and keep doing patchwork, we don’t think it will be an efficient expenditure of town money,” he said.

Dolan recommend the Commission educate the public on the project so they will understand “what their penny’s going to buy.”

“We’re talking about spending a very small fraction of what we’ll get out of it,” Green said.

Also considered during the budget hearing was Article 12, which would limit to $1,000 the amount of Land Use Change Tax to be placed annually in the Conservation Commission Fund; as well as Article 3, the FY17 Operating Bud get.

The Council requested that more information on both Articles be presented at their next meeting on Dec. 21, including, at Conservation Commissioner Mike Speltz’s request, the amount of Land Use Change Tax that has been accumulated in the Conservation Commission’s Fund since the Town started placing the first $100,000 and 40 percent of the remainder of the revenues received from the Land Use Change Tax into the Fund.

The Operating Budget will see some adjustments as the process moves forward, according to Finance Director Doug Smith, who increased the revenues line by $118,120 after learning from the State that the Rooms and Meals Tax and Highway Block Grant will be level funded, and that the Town will receive a transfer from the Cemetery Trustees that had not been accounted for in the original proposal.

Additionally, the Council approved increasing the cost of car registration, as supported by State Statutes, by $1.50, which would generate $54,000 in revenue.

The Council’s next meeting on Dec. 21 will include a bond hearing. The Council’s final meeting on the FY17 budget is scheduled for Jan. 18, and Deliberative Session is to be held on Feb. 6.

All proposed Warrant Articles must be submitted to the town manager by Jan. 12 for inclusion on the FY17 Town Warrant.

Smith said as part of the discussion, the Council will consider proposing a Warrant Article related to restrictions on target shooting in the Musquash and other conservation areas in town.

The public is invited to provide input.

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