Selectmen begin process of slashing town budget

By PATRICK MEIGHAN, Telegraph Staff
Published: Friday, Apr. 21, 2006

MERRIMACK – Department by department, budget line by line, the town’s new selectmen on Thursday began poring over where to cut $1.6 million in town spending.

Discussions were continuing late Thursday, with no cuts made. However, the board, at the suggestion of Chairman Dave McCray, scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday to make the cuts required by a town meeting vote earlier this month.

The board discussed making cuts in nearly every phase of town government. Among a score of items potentially on the chopping block are:

• A proposed position, not currently filled, of an assistant town manager, for $106,000 in combined salary and benefits.

• Overtime for firefighters amounting to $38,325.

• A reduction of $64,198 in overtime for police officers.

• Eliminating a staff engineer from public works, saving $74,015 in salary and benefits.

First, however, the new board debated its role in setting town spending.

On April 11, voters elected an anti-tax majority and approved a town operating budget of $25,180,319, which residents at the deliberative session in March had cut by $1.5 million from a proposed 2006-07 budget of $26,306,512.

The amount needed to be cut from the town budget has grown by an estimated $133,135, because of increases in fuel costs, town officials said.

Town Manager Tim Tieperman presented the board with a spreadsheet detailing possible cuts. Those cuts were garnered from a daylong workshop Tieperman held this week with department heads.

As the board began discussing the cuts, asking questions of Tieperman, Finance Administrator Paul Micali and various department heads, Selectman Tom Koenig objected.

“The tendency I’m seeing here is toward micromanagement,” said Koenig, the last remaining selectman who formed the majority of the previous board, which often found itself opposing McCray by 4-1 votes.

Koenig said the board should adopt the recommendations of Tieperman and professionals on town staff.

“I urge us to be careful that we don’t go over that line and do the town manager’s job for him,” Koenig said.

McCray countered that examining spending in detail wasn’t micromanagement, but the selectmen’s prerogative. He also said he was glad Koenig had raised his objection sooner rather than later in the process of making the cuts.

“We may have a fundamental disagreement about what our jobs are as we go through this process,” McCray said to Koenig.

“I believe we do,” Koenig responded.

The board then proceeded to question department heads gathered for the meeting, such as Fire Chief William Pepler, Police Chief William Mulligan, Public Works Director Ed Chase and others.

McCray said he opposed implementing $30,000 worth of wage adjustments to various town employees. The adjustments were to be phased in over two years as recommended by the previous board. A study had compared wages in Merrimack with those in surrounding towns.

“We don’t need Manchester and Nashua to tell us what to pay our employees,” McCray said.

Later in the evening, selectmen were to discuss implementing a possible hiring freeze and to discuss funding for the Fourth of July parade and fireworks display sponsored by the Rotary Club.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or